Sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter, May 28, 2017

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A
Ascension Sunday
May 28, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10,33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Today is what we call “Ascension Sunday” as well as the Seventh and Last Sunday in Easter Season.  So today, our readings are all about Jesus’ departure from the side of his disciples and his arrival in the courts of heaven.   His earthly journey is complete.  He came to us as one of us to reconcile us to the Father; and in doing so he showed us the path, the way, the truth, and the light that are God’s gift and promise, and our joy and hope

In Luke’s rendering, found in the book of Acts, Jesus also promised his followers “power” and charged them to be witnesses testifying to the good news “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

What is this power?

Luke reminds us straight off that the disciples expected Jesus to “restore the kingdom of Israel.”  We know that the traditional expectation of the messiah was to restore the kingdom of Israel, to make it a strong country, respected by all, and not oppressed under the Roman boot – or the Greek boot – or the Persian boot – or the Babylonian boot – or the Egyptian boot….  They yearned for the days of David and Solomon, when Israel was united, strong, and free, and merchants and traders and diplomats came from all over the known world to marvel at the wonders of Jerusalem and pay tribute to her rulers.

That was even one of the questions that greeted him when he came to Jerusalem, for it is written, that he told them a parable “because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.”[1]

They wanted Israel to be great again.

They really wanted this.  So they kept asking – everyone was asking – why didn’t Jesus make it happen, if he was the Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah that he apparently claimed to be.  Surely, this was part of the plan!

His death shocked them; they didn’t expect that – this was not how they saw their warrior-savior-messiah at all.  But then he came back!  Surely now, that he had conquered death, the Romans and all the rest were next on the list?  But he said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”

In Matthew and Mark’s version of the story, Jesus tells them that “…of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”[2]

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is quoted saying, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”[3]

So when he tells them at his departure that it is not for them to know when he will return, that’s a pretty clear indication, wouldn’t you say?  It’s not up to them. 

He also, if you go back and look at what it says in the Gospel of Luke, told them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”[4]

So again, we must ask, “What is this power?”

I went back and looked in Luke’s Gospels for hints of what this power might be that the Holy Spirit would give them.  I found the part where Jesus sent the disciples out, giving them “power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases and to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.”[5]

Later he said, “I gave you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, over all power of the enemy” and “nothing will hurt you.”[6]

He said they should expect to be arrested and questioned, but “the Holy Spirit will tell you what to say….”[7]

And finally, he did say “I confer upon you a kingdom” – but that was in the face of his execution: the entrance fee was another indicator that his image and understanding of the kingdom of God was not the one they clung to so hard.[8]

So not only was HE not going to take over the government, there is nothing in the Gospel of Luke to indicate that they should expect to either.   So, what was this power about then?  It was about inviting and welcoming, and entering “as a little child.”[9]

It was about healing – casting out demons and curing sickness – and feeding the hungry, and freeing captives.

And if that was his image of the kingdom of God that the Messiah would bring, then it is reasonable to conclude that the power of the Holy Spirit was quite probably of the same nature and kind.  Don’t you think?

So they were to witness to God’s love, care, welcome, and grace – and they would have the power to do that with or before any one or any court or council to which they might be brought – to all people, in whatever circumstances they found themselves.

Jesus knew that not everyone would believe – we hear that in John’s Gospel, when he prays, “I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.”

So the charge is laid on those who believe, to stand witness to God’s love, care, and welcome.

The power they were given was risky: they might be arrested and killed for it – and we know that many, many were.  But it was risky for another reason, that we don’t talk about as much.  It was the temptation to claim more power than they were given, the power that Constantine gave them when he made Christianity the state religion and enforced doctrinal agreements – the earthly power to rule and enforce and, yes, oppress others.

But Jesus’ made it clear that this power was NOT about ruling the world, running the empire, or enforcing the law … but to speak truth to earthly power, oppressive power, to stand up for the poor, the hungry, and those in prison just as Jesus did, and to invite anyone who wanted to come, to offer them what they had themselves received, with all the attendant risks.  

The Holy Spirit will guide.

 

[1] Luke 19:11. The parable was about the master who gave money to each of three slaves and told them to invest it, and the one who didn’t was punished.

[2] Mark 13:32; Matthew 24:36.

[3] Luke 12:40.

[4] Luke 24:46-49.

[5] Luke 9:1-2.

[6] Luke 10:19.

[7] Luke 12:11-12.

[8] Luke 22:29.

[9] Luke 18:17.

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