Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Ascension Sermons. . .

Sermon preached for Ascension Morning, Thursday, May 10, 2018, by the Rev. Larry A. Peters. 
https://05714042a2232aa91807ef46-qgjpdebgroop4m.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/ascension_boom.jpgDid you ever gaze into the heavens to figure out what clouds look like?  Or perhaps you drove through fog and found yourself enveloped by a cloud.  Or maybe somebody poked you when you were daydreaming and in a cloud.  Or your mind was clouded like fog and had trouble understanding something.  Clouds mean many different things to us but in Scripture clouds are associated with God’s presence and glory. 

In Exodus Moses wrote how the glory of God appeared as a cloud while Aaron spoke.  Later a cloud was the signal of God’s presence in giving the law to God’s people.  And then there was the pillar of cloud by day through which God led His people to the promised land.  Remember the bright cloud that overshadowed Peter, James, and John when Jesus was transfigured.  At the end of all the ages, Jesus says you will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  So it should not surprise us that Jesus at His ascension is taken up into the clouds until His visage is seen no more.

We may think of clouds as mysteries that are what we make of them but not this cloud.  Jesus has not departed from His people but certainly the mode of His presence has been changed.  We are not left with a question mark but with a new sentence and it ends with a resounding exclamation point.  Christ has placed the mystery of His presence among us and He Himself has defined that mystery.  The water that bestows life in Baptism is Jesus.  The voice that speaks in the Word is Jesus.  The bread and wine that He feeds us with His flesh and blood is Jesus.  We do not have to define Him or do something to make Him present but simply to recognize Him where He has promised to be.

He comes to us not from another place but as the Son of God who has fulfilled the saving purpose of the Father and acts from the right hand of the Father to make known this saving Gospel and teach our fearful hearts to trust in Him and rejoice in His presence.  Ascension Day is not about where Jesus has gone but how He comes to us still and ever fulfills the promise of Emmanuel, God with us.  And it is not about mysteries we must crack but the mystery we own by faith and honor with the worship of hearts, minds, hands, voices, and, most of all, faith.

Instead of wondering IF God is present, Jesus ascends through the clouds – the Old and New Testament signs of God’s glory and presence.  He is still at work finishing His new creation and bringing to their fullness all things in Him.  He does so not as the absent Lord who is away from us but as the God who is always present where His Word speaks, His water washes, and His body and blood feeds.  God has not given Christ into the clouds to figure out or define what they mean but because these are the signs and symbols of His power and might, His glory and strength. 

Jesus has no more challenges.  His power is above all.  His glory cannot be hidden or diminished.  His purpose is not unknown but profoundly revealed.  Everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved.  That is the Pentecost message that gives birth to the Church by the gift of the Spirit.  And the Church is where the Word and Sacraments of the Lord are and the Word and Sacraments bestow Christ and His gifts upon His waiting people.

We long for the glory of God and for the unfolding of the mysteries of God but these will not come by gazing into the skies.  “Why do you stand here looking at the sky” asks the angels to the disciples.  In other words, like the promise of Jesus before His resurrection to go into Galilee and He will be there, the angel calls upon the disciples to remember what Christ has promised.  We would do well to do exactly the same thing.

Christ is here and His glory and His power.  He speaks through His Word.  He makes disciples through His baptismal water.  He absolves His own that their consciences might be clear.  And He feeds us heavenly food – His flesh for the life of the world and His blood that cleanses us from all our sin.  So all that is left for us it to believe what He has promised, thank Him for His gifts and mercies, serve Him as His own people doing what He has called us to do, and giving Him the obedience of faith that delights in His Word and Will and walks in His ways.  We are not in the business of cloud gazing but in doing the Lord's bidding -- in faith, worship, witness, and service.

Even what you see is not all there shall be.  So do not get too attached to the present moment.  Because you are the people of His promise.  And when the time is right, the clouds will come and unfold again to show forth the eternal glory of the Father in His Son and a new heavens and earth will emerge so that you will be one with saints who have gone before and Christ will be all in all forevermore.  Until that day, simply believe.  

Sermon for Ascension Evening, preached on Thursday, May 10, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich
https://www.calendardate.com/images/ascension_day.jpg          We confess it every Sunday, whether it’s in the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene.  We say Jesus Christ our Lord, “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God.”  Our readings for this evening testify to this truth of the faith.  Both in his Gospel and in Acts, Luke tells us what happened on that first Ascension Day; and St. Paul explains what Jesus’ ascension means.  After God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, He “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:20-21).  When Jesus ascended, He went to the right hand of God, but that doesn’t mean He’s left us, His people, alone here on earth.  In fact, it means the opposite, for from the right hand of God, Christ is always with us.  He’s with us in worship and He’s with us in witness. 
          Being at the right hand of God doesn’t mean Jesus is confined to a chair next to the Father in a heavenly throne room.  The right hand of God isn’t only a place...it’s also a position.  The right hand man of a king is a man of power and authority.  He speaks for the king and the people listen.  They understand this man is the king’s man and disobedience to him is disobedience to the king. 
Christ Jesus, the Son of God, is the right hand man of God.  He has the full authority of the Father.  Like St. Paul says, He has rule and authority and power and dominion above everyone and everything.  His name is the name that’s above all names, the name at which every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Phil 2:10).  Christ has the full authority of the Father.  He’s our Lord, He’s our King, and He’s always with us. 
This is Jesus’ very promise.  He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me...And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:18-20). 
Before Christ’s ascension, before His time of exultation, Jesus was in a state of humility, that is, even though He was fully God and possessed all the divine attributes of God: His omniscience, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, He didn’t fully use them.  He set these things aside, so that He could suffer and die on the cross, so that He could be that sacrifice that redeems you and me from sin and death.  With that price paid, God the Father glorified Christ by raising Him from the dead and placing Him at His right hand.  Now, in this exaltation, Christ fully uses all of His omniscience, all of His omnipotence, all of His omnipresence, being present with us today, and every day, for our salvation.
          It’s telling to see what the disciples did and where they went after Christ’s ascension.  At first, they stood on the mountain looking up, hoping to keep our Lord in their sight a little bit longer; but then two angels appeared to them.  They reminded them that Jesus hadn’t left for good.  Christ would return from heaven in the same way He went up to heaven.  Hearing this the disciples worshiped Jesus and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple blessing God (Lk 24:52-53).  The first thing they did after Christ’s ascension was worship Him, and then, they witnessed to Him. 
Our Lord is present in worship.  He’s present where His Word is read and preached.  He’s present where His forgiveness is proclaimed.  And He’s present in His Sacraments. 
Too often we confuse worship as what we do for God.  We think of it as our praise, as our prayers, as our acts of showing reverence and honor to God.  This is very much a part of worship, but that’s not where it begins.  Worship begins with God coming to us to give us His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
When we think of worship as something we first do, we form it to look like what we want.  If it’s my praise, it should fit my preference.  But that’s not how worship is seen in Scripture.  When we look at the Old Testament and all the rules and laws that governed the construction of the Tabernacle and Temple and all of the sacrifices that happened there, these things weren’t designed by the people.  God gave them these instructions, not to be hard or burdensome, but to graciously bring them into His Holy presence.  
As sinners, God’s people couldn’t come into His holy presence on their own.  There are numerous examples in Scripture where people tired and it didn’t end well for them.  In order to come into God’s presence, one must first be made clean.  They must be made holy.  This was the reason for all the sacrifices of old...and this is the reason for Christ’s sacrifice for you.
We can’t come into God’s presence because of our sin; so God came to us in His Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  By His shed blood on the cross you’re cleansed from your sin.  You’re made holy and you can stand in God’s presence.
In worship, in the Divine Service, our Lord comes to you, delivering to you that very forgiveness of sins that you need in order to be in His presence.  Christ comes to you in the Words of Absolution spoken by the pastor.  Jesus is there forgiving you your sins.  As the words of the Gospel are read, Christ is coming to you, proclaiming what He’s done for you.  Jesus is there, announcing the Good News of His sacrifice for you.  And in the Lord’s Supper, Christ comes to you.  Jesus is physically there, giving you His body and blood under the bread and wine to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins.  In worship, our Lord comes to us, to give us His gifts, and in response to this, we worship Him.  We sing His praises; we offer Him prayers of thanksgiving; and we proclaim in joy what He’s done for us.  In all these, we bless the Lord.  And in this blessing, we are a witness for Christ to others. 
The disciples didn’t worship by themselves after the ascension.  They went back to the Temple, to the place where God’s people met in worship, and they announced the Good News of Christ there.  In the place of sacrifice that pointed to Christ’s final sacrifice, the disciples witness to Jesus, and He was there.  Likewise, Christ is there as we proclaim His excellencies. 
We’re not alone in worship.  We worship with God’s people, together under the same roof and in the same pews.  As we bless the Lord, others hear us.  We witness to Him, and Christ is there.  Where His word is shared and the Gospel is announced, there He is.  Whenever we share our faith with others, whether it be here in worship, or outside these walls, Christ is there.  He’s there speaking His Word, and in the Word the Holy Spirit is working, working to produce and strengthen faith in others. 
Our Lord ascended and is at the right hand of God, but we don’t go searching for Him by looking up into heaven. Our Savior is with us, here on earth. In His exaltation, from the right hand of God, Jesus is present in worship; He’s present in our witness. He comes to us in His Word and Sacraments, giving to us the forgiveness of sins that He won on the cross. So like the disciples, we return with joy. We go back home, we go to work, we go to the store, and we come back to worship with joy, because our Lord is with us here, and everywhere we go. In Jesus name...Amen.


Chris said...

Both of these sermons missed a pretty big point: namely, the deification of the flesh. Christ ascended into Heaven while still wearing the flesh which he was given at his incarnation and pierced with the wounds of the scourging and Crucifixion. God descended in the incarnation and now Man ascends with the ascension.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Excellent and thoughtful message. Thank you for sharing.