Friday, May 19, 2023

What they knew and could not have known...

Sermon for the Ascension of Our Lord (B) preached on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

Those who went out with Jesus to Bethany were not the same people who Jesus had called to follow Him.  At the time of His call, they had no idea what was before them.  Only the Holy Spirit could have calmed their uncertain hearts so that they answered Jesus’ call by leaving everything of their lives behind to follow Him.  By the time when our Lord heads out into the countryside with the same disciples in tow, they had literally been around the world a couple of times.

What did they know?  They knew Jesus, the One who was incarnate of the Virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit.  They knew Jesus, the One John had named in the waters of the Jordan with confirmation by presence of the Spirit and the voice of the Father.  They knew Jesus, called the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  They knew Jesus, the multiplier of lunch to feed thousands, the healer who took away the afflictions sin had caused, the tamer of demons who called them out of their helpless victims, and the one who raised the dead back to life.

What did they know?  They knew Jesus as the servant Lord who came not to receive service but to serve undeserving and unworthy sinners even to death upon the cross.  They knew Jesus as the Mighty One who suffered for those of no degree and the sinless One who died for the sins of others.  They knew Jesus as the Lord who refused to run away suffering even though they did.  They knew Jesus as the risen Savior whom the grave could not contain and who wears the glorious flesh of those who died never to die again.  

What they could not have known was their profound effect their role as His witnesses would have far beyond the familiar places of Nazareth or Galilee or even Jerusalem.  What they would not have known that is the many who would attend to their words written so that those who did not see Jesus might believe.  What they could not have known were the mighty buildings that would make the glorious Temple of Jerusalem pale in comparison – places where Christians would gather to praise the name of Jesus and receive His sacramental gifts.  What they could not have known is that their names would adorn those cathedrals and parish churches, schools and seminaries, colleges and campuses, hospitals and nursing homes, and all kinds of places and programs of the Church.  What they could not have known were the little boys and girls who would be inspired to Christian service by the story of their service on behalf of Christ to the world.
What they could not have known is the profound fruits of their preaching and teaching to change the course of human history.  What they could not have known are the artists and musicians who would give image and sound to the glory of Christ crucified and risen. What they could not have known is that most of them would die the violent death of martyrs who drank of Christ’s cup and who were baptized into His suffering.  They were content to swell with the joy of Christ in them and dwell in the Temple courts praising the Christ who ascended to His place of glory at the right hand of the Father.  And that was enough.

Pastor Oesch had no idea that the baby he baptized would grow up to be pastor.  Pastor Durdell had no idea that the youth he confirmed with preach the Gospel in a pulpit.  I had no idea that church work would be in my future, or that I would serve on Long Island or halfway between Albany and New York City or spend more than 30 years in Clarksville, TN.  Just as I did not know my future, you do not know yours.  You have one way vision.  You only see the past.  But together we see the past that we need to see.  We see Jesus, promised by the prophets, born of the Virgin, lived in obedience to die in the place of sinners, rose never to die again and ascended to go to prepare a place for us.  That is all we need to know to make it through today, to know where we are going.  If we know Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we know all we need to get there and be with Him.

And one thing more.  You do not know whose lives you will touch with the Gospel either.  Sure, you might expect that family members will see and hear Christ in you but they are not all whose lives you will touch.  You do not need to know.  Like the disciples of all, it is enough to know Jesus, to confess Him in the creed, to speak His Word to those you encounter and those closest to you, and God will do the rest.  Jesus said that they would be His witnesses, first from Judea, into Samaria, and to the ends of the world.  They did not put together a program or a committee or try to figure out how to organize this.  They simply spoke as God gave them voice and opportunity and the Lord did all the rest.

We have turned the Church into an organization when Christ created His Church to be an organism.  We live because we are connected to Christ’s life.  That life is present with us even though Jesus’ visual image has departed.  The Word of God and the Sacraments of Christ are dynamos and powerhouses of God’s grace and mercy – not only for us but so that God might work through us.  Our joy is not to come from results which we may never see but from the Christ whom we know.

We worry about the things we do not know and will never know in advance of their happening.  Where we will live or how we will die.  None of that matters.  What matters is that Christ lives in us and in Him death has no more power over us.  What matters is that Christ died and rose again and that we have forgiveness, life, and salvation because of that death and resurrection.  What matters is that what He has given us to do, He will also supply the Spirit and the gifts needed to accomplish that purpose.  What matters is that we are regularly in the Lord’s House around His Word and Table.  What matters is not the stuff we cannot know but what God has already told us in His Word.  If we know this, we know all that matters, the one thing needful, and the Word that endures forever.

So let us not despair of the future but fulfill our baptism calling with confidence.  Let us not fear the powers against us but rejoice that Christ is for us.  Let us not fret about the things to come that we cannot know and focus on what God has revealed to us in His Son.  Let us not gaze into the heavens to find a Jesus who is not there, but meet Him here in His Church, in His Word and Sacraments, as He has promised.  Let us not take for granted our life as His children but rejoice to call others into His kingdom that they may be with us, living under Him in His kingdom today and forevermore.  Christ has not abandoned us or left us but is now filling all things.  This is our great joy and this is why we praise His holy name.  Amen

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