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06.01.14 Heavenly Hearts, Earthly Hands Acts 1:6-14 Sermon Summary

by on June 2, 2014

This week I murdered a perfectly good sermon. Here’s the resuscitated, hopefully redeemed, version.

Summary Points

  • Repenting from my over-active “J”
  • Why Pre-Ascension Envy is not that enviable
  • The Pre-Ascension Question or the Post-Ascension Life
  • Two keys to living the Post-Ascension Life
  • Question for Discussion or Reflection

So my Myers-Briggs J got the better of me this week. Twice. First when I wrote the sermon, and then again when I preached it. At Faith, we have a “Connection Card” which includes an opportunity to check a prescribe response to the message. These usually find their way into the Questions for Discussion and Reflection section in these online summaries. I write these sentences prior to the sermon, and so I feel the sermon really should address these sentences, even if in the writing of it the sermon goes in another direction. So when I wrote this sermon, and checked the Connection Card, I realized this sermon didn’t conform to the check off sentences, and so I added some things. Then, in the preaching of it, I intuited that people were no longer tracking, but I pushed the extra points anyway, and crashed what was otherwise a pretty good flying message. I repent! Here is, as Mary chose, is the better part of the sermon.

Sometimes today we suffer from what I might call Pre-Ascension Envy. Wouldn’t it be nice, we tell ourselves, if we were around during the forty days in which, according to Acts, the resurrected Christ revealed himself and taught his disciples—prior to ascending to the heavens? But alas, we are a post-Ascension church.

Actually, this is something for which to be grateful, for without the Ascension, we have no hope. Who wants a resurrection after death back to this life, to this world? Would we really want to prolong this life forever? What we really want is a resurrection to new life, to a new world. This is what Jesus and the prophets forecast, what Paul saw, and what Ascension symbolizes because Ascension is a depiction of our destiny. Like Jesus, we will resurrect from the dead to a “new heavens and a new earth.”

This leaves us with a choice: we may continue to ask the pre-Ascension question, or live the post-Ascension life. The pre-ascension question was summarized by the disciples: Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? It is basically, Does our glory come now? Will we be in control of things again now? Will peace and prosperity return to us now that Jesus is raised from the dead?

We can spend our whole lives answering this question about the earthly kingdom. “If I could just get the right spouse, the promotion, the right spirituality . . .” We keep looking for a “kingdom” as we envision it, as we remember it (from the “good old days”), or as we dream it. I, for one, find myself constantly looking for the key that will bring me peace, unlock my potential, and make things easier.

Jesus’ answer to this question is profound: “It is not for you to know, because God alone has that authority.” He directs us not to our own thinking, ambitions, dreams, or competencies. He directs us instead to God, which requires faith. And then in his last active parable, like turning over the tables in the Temple or washing the disciples’ feet, he ascends into the heavens. “Don’t look around you for the kingdom,” the parable enacts. “Look ‘up’ to God.”

Jesus’ Ascension hasn’t left us alone, however. Before his Ascension he promised the Holy Spirit. And when that Spirit comes, he said, we will be his witnesses to the end of the world. We’re not to just gaze into the heavens, into the promises of Christ, until he comes again. Instead we are to follow the example of the disciples who returned to the upper room and devoted themselves to prayer in the community.

There are two crucial lessons here. First, if we want to live in the Spirit of God, we have to be in prayer—to be vigilant and patient in prayer. Prayer is the opening of ourselves to God. It is waiting and listening for the Holy Spirit. It is quieting all other voices telling us what we should be, and listening for the still, small voice within and above calling us to become what we should be.

This is why Peter says, “Humble yourselves before God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Prayer is a posture of humility. It says, “I don’t know what is best for me, and no one else does either. But you do, God.”

Peter also says, “Discipline yourselves and keep alert,” because prayer isn’t natural. And it isn’t easy. We have to choose to do it; otherwise we won’t do it. This is why prayer books, prayer times, prayer locations, prayer postures, prayer rituals, prayer beads, memorizing prayers, prayer lists—all these aids are important. They keep us praying.

Finally, Peter says the enemy of prayer is just waiting for us to let prayer slip our minds, and then he pounces like a ravenous lion. Instead, through prayer, we keep our gaze towards the ascended Christ.

To use language of Psalm 68, when God rises up, his enemies are scattered (68:1). This means also that our enemies are scattered. And as we lift up our prayers to the one who “rides upon the clouds” (:4), God rains down upon us in abundance (:9). As we look to the “rider in the heavenly skies” (:33-34), God gives us power and strength (:35). All of this is elegantly portrayed in the Ascension and Pentecost.

In prayer, we become what God has destined us to become. We are promised in our baptism to become one with God, just as Jesus prayed in John. As children of God, like Jesus who ascended to return to be with God, so will we.

The second lesson from the disciples’ response is that we have to remain in community. Paul says that Jesus is the firstborn within a large family (Romans 8:29). He’s the only begotten son, but he’s not an only child. We are children of God by adoption, by the Spirit. And being God’s children, we are part of a family.

Who we are as God’s individual child is dependent upon who we are as the children of God, as a family. We can’t figure it out, much less live it out, without one another in community. So as we are prayerful, and as we remain together, we receive the Holy Spirit, and are able to discern what God’s will is for us.

And what we’ll discover is that God, whether pre-Ascension or post-Ascension, has never been far from us. Psalm 68 says God “in his holy habitation” is the “Father of orphans and protector of widows” (:5). Though God “came down” to us in a special way through Jesus Christ, God has always been “down here” with those who need God most.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • How does reading the Ascension symbolically as a depiction of our destiny inspire you to hope?
  • In what ways does the Pre-Ascension Question word itself in your life? How are you trying to force into this life what God has reserved for your resurrection?
  • What role does the Holy Spirit play during your times in prayer? Does the Spirit simply “transport” your words to heaven? Do you listen for the Spirit’s voice to you?
  • How disciplined is your prayer life? Do you make use of books, locations, lists, or other aids to help you in prayer?
  • How often do you pray with others in community, not only for the needs of people and the world, but for the will and power of God in your life?
  • In what ways have you discovered that God is still here with us even though Jesus ascended?


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