Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Ascension 2019


Let us say together the Apostle’s Creed (recite the creed). The creed was written in order to give people a concise understanding of the faith - short enough that people could memorize it but comprehensive enough that everything that essentially we need to know and believe to follow God is included. There were no Bibles available for people to look at so they needed a way to get the facts about the faith. Originally it was a baptismal creed - those adults being baptized would learn it in question and answer form and then recited it at their baptism.
So let’s think about this creed and what the early church fathers felt was import an for us to know…..
First that God created heaven and earth - short and sweet and essential for us to believe. The last paragraph gives us some one sentence essentials - The Holy Spirit, that regardless of tradition, or denomination, we are all one church in Jesus Christ, that we are all part of the communion of believers - living or dead, that our sins are forgiven, that we will be bodily resurrected and will live forever. The middle paragraph, the longest one, tells us what we need to know about Jesus - the basics. That Jesus was the son of God, that his birth was a miracle, that he was crucified and died, that he rose from the dead and that he ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of the God the father almighty.
And that last little section is what we need to talk about today - he ascended into heaven…..
Today is referred to as Ascension Sunday. Today however is not the actual day of the ascension, but the Sunday right after that event. A little over 40 days ago, we recognized the death of Jesus and his resurrection. Jesus remained on earth for 40 days after the resurrection, spending time with the disciples - teaching them and encouraging them in the role they were going to have to fulfill as the Apostles of Jesus. We had our Christ Candle burning in the sanctuary and our cross with the white cloth to remind us of the special presence of Jesus during these 40 days. During these 40 days Jesus was also trying to prepare the disciples for the fact that he was going away - for good this time.
We see our common number 40 as the ascension was 40 days after the resurrection. So actual Ascension Day is always on a Thursday -the Resurrection is always on a Sunday so reason follows that 40 days later is always a Thursday. So last Thursday, a few days ago, is the day about 2000 years ago, that Jesus ascends into heaven. A miraculous and wondrous event. And of course you need to hear my annual rant about how we as the church should be making a bigger deal about commemorating this important day in the life of Jesus; this important day in helping us understand all what Jesus has done for his people. We make a big deal about his birth; we make a big deal about his death and resurrection; Christmas we celebrate God came to earth in the form of a human named Jesus so that he could take on our sin for us. We make a big deal about his death and resurrection celebrating Easter Sunday where we remember how he suffered and died on the cross to forgive our sin; he rose from the dead to give us eternal life ---- but without the ascension we never make it to live with God. We would remain here on earth just as we have been talking about for the last 40 days. Jesus spent the 40 days after the resurrection on earth. But through his ascension where he rises to sit at the right hand of the Father, we too, get to go and spend eternity with God. The ascension is the completion of the work of Jesus which insures our eternal life in the presence of God - and that should be a big deal!!
So This is Ascension Sunday - the day set aside to recognize that essential section of the Apostle’s Creed - that Jesus ascended into heaven. On the 40th day after the resurrection, Thursday, 3 days ago, Jesus gathered the disciples on a mountaintop, and told them that this was it. That this was the moment he was leaving - he told them not to worry. He was going to heaven, but he was going to send his spirit back and the spirit would live in them and give them the power they needed to do the job God had assigned them. Their job was to go out into the world and teach everyone what he had taught them. The disciples were to take everything that Jesus had taught them and now teach it to the rest of ‘the world’. Go back to Jerusalem, and wait. When the time is right my spirit will come to you. Which by the way we will celebrate next Sunday - as we remember the event known as Pentecost. Don’t forget to wear red!
So as the disciples are standing there on that mountain, they watch as Jesus literally, physically, ascends through the clouds and on to heaven. They just stood there mesmerized. Can you imagine? They stood there long enough staring up in the sky that an angel came and said, “Don’t just stand there looking up into heaven!” Go! Do what Jesus said! Go back to Jerusalem and wait for the spirit Jesus will send you. Off they went, singing and praising God and they did what Jesus told them - they went back to the upper room and waited expectantly for whatever this spirit might be!

In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul says that the good news of the cross is foolishness for those who don't believe, but for followers of Christ it represents the power of God. In other words, the stories that are so much a part of who we are, just seem silly to unbelievers, almost like fairy tales. The stories that are essential to our faith; the stories that teach us and
instruct us about God are pretty unbelievable to those who are not part of the church. Think about the Biblical happenings
from an outsiders view point; from someone who didn't grow up with Moses and David and Joshua as part of their basic teachings; who don’t have faith in who God is and what God is capable of doing. We have a guy being swallowed by a fish? How about Elijah riding to heaven in a chariot of fire? We have Jacob wrestling all night with an angel. Doesn’t sound like something that is very real. Yet these preposterous accounts are integral to our faith and our understanding of God. And from a practical, scientific, believability viewpoint, even the life of Jesus is just as absurd; dead people rising from the dead, multiplying food, disease healing. An outsider would just shake their head and say "You believe what?". To someone not grounded in our faith, it just seems like foolishness - just like the Apostle Paul says. But as believers we understand that God’s work is all about miraculous happenings; incidents that are hard to believe. Jesus was born of a virgin. His ministry began with the voice of God calling out from heaven. Jesus spends three years healing people, raising people from the dead - performing miracles. He then gets killed and unbelievably raises from the dead and comes back to life. And today, we celebrate another in the strange but true stories of Jesus - his ascension.
Picture the disciples as they watch Jesus bodily ascend into the heaven. Another of the wondrous, hard to believe moments in the scriptures. It is hard to explain a man bodily rising up into the sky all on his own. But sometimes I think this directive of Jesus to go out and do his work is sometimes harder to believe than the amazing hard to believe miracles and events; harder to believe that this amazing moment of watching Jesus ascend into heaven.. Sometimes it is easier to believe Moses really parted the Red Sea than to believe Jesus really expects us to do what he did. Maybe we fit in here with the unbelievers the Apostle Paul talks about when he mentions that the stories are folly to unbelievers. It is so hard for us to really think that Jesus wants us to share the Gospel and to teach the good news to the world? Are you thinking “Surely that doesn’t mean me?”
But the answer is, Yes – it does. For we have to grasp the understanding that we here in this congregation are the chosen people of God – chosen not only for Salvation, but chosen to be set apart for the express purpose to be agents of God in this world. That is what this story is truly all about. Reminding us that Jesus’ ascension was not only the completion of his work for our salvation, but the beginning of our work as God’s people. Unbelievable to think God wants
us to do the work of Jesus.
Jesus makes one more statement before he flies into the sky – He said, “This is going to seem like an awesome responsibility. This is going to seem like an overwhelming task. But don’t worry. I’ll be there for you.” And this is what he says to us. Jesus says, “I expect you to do this. To carry my message to the world. – But don’t worry. I will equip you. I will give you what you need. You don’t have to do it on your own.” And so for us the first step is believing that first and foremost we are supposed to go out and teach those who don’t know about Christ the things he taught and secondly – and most important – Jesus really will help you do it.
The secret to being able to fulfill our responsibility is faith in the
living power of Jesus. Jesus may have bodily ascended into heaven but he promised he would give us the power necessary to do what he asked us to do. This is not folly, this is not a fairy tale, this is not just some inspiring speech, this is not for someone else, but real power to do the work of Jesus for each and every one of you – you, the chosen people of God. We cannot just be recipients of salvation; we cannot be spectators as others heed Jesus’ words – this is not an option. It is the will and direction of God for us. Go and teach the world what it means to be a believer in Christ. Believe that and believe in the power Jesus will give you to do it.
Today we celebrate the ascension! We celebrate the ascension as people who have found the stories of the Bible to be true, to be reliable and to reveal to us who God is and who we are. The result of that ascension is our everlasting life with God and the challenge to live as if we really believe we receive everything we need to do God’s work. Christ has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God!