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Ascended friend - Sermon on Luke 24:44-53

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What does the Ascension--and by extension, the Resurrection--mean for us today? One thing it means is that the one who is to judge us is well known as a friend to sinners. 

lease listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

May 8, 2016 - Ascension Sunday

"Ascended friend".  Text is from Luke 24:44-53

Click here for sermon audio

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

We have spent the last few Sundays preparing ourselves for the departure of Jesus from among his disciples. Indeed, since he returned from the dead, he's made quite a number of his appearances, and we've gone back to the farewell discourse so we could remind ourselves about what Jesus told his faithful apostles what the departure means to them.  We've felt their anxieties, held their hands with their questions to Jesus, been with them to understand what was this mystery, that Jesus meant, that he would not be among us any more, that he would physically be taken up into the midst of God, while leaving his Holy Spirit among us to keep us company.  

And now that time is here. We see that Jesus is to arise into his glory, with his final words on earth shared among the fortunate few that were witness to his time on earth. We remember what he's told them, and through them, us: "Stick together. Love one another as I have loved you. I have to go to the Father. If you loved me, you would be happy for me that I go to the Father." And while we want to be happy for him, to us there is a certain feeling of loss, the same kind of feeling when a good friend or loved sibling decides to find better opportunities in another city. It pulls at our hearts.

 But the ascension is kind of like a reversal of all those feelings. The disciples' minds are finally opened once and for all. The nature of the prophecies has finally been revealed. The good news is to be proclaimed that while the beloved children of God must repent they are also forgiven of their sins. That the message is going out not just to the chosen people of Israel but the world beyond Jerusalem and the province of Judea. And that those witnesses to these words are about to be given the wondrous gift and power to proclaim those same things not only with truth but with the authority that only comes from the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ is about to be sending back to them. 

This Ascension of Christ, the physical movement of Jesus from earth to heaven, is a single line in our creed, but it is the culmination of the Resurrection which began at the tomb on Easter Sunday. We have been declaring since then, Jesus is risen. And now he has truly ascended from earth to heaven.  What did this mean to the disciples then and what does it mean for us today? 

Although we have found over and over again the disciples filled with anxiety, here they are filled with joy and comfort, even though Jesus has now, once and for all, physically departed from them. This is such a huge reversal of all of the previous encounters. Jesus is gone from their presence but they worship him and return to Jerusalem with great joy and go continually in the temple. Their minds have been opened up and they are free to be released from their anxiety. All is going to be well for them. Everything is going to be well. 

And yet, what happened with many of the original followers of Christ did not seem well at all. Executed in the most gruesome fashion, torn apart by mobs, thrown into the arena by the Roman Authorities for the entertainment of the Emperor and the citizens of Rome. 

The disposition of God's chosen people, was not any better. Before two generations had come and gone, the temple lay in ruins, the people of Jerusalem and Judea put down under the boots of Rome. Tragedy after tragedy came upon those people for decades and decades. 

And yet, the promise of Jesus on the resurrection nevertheless sustained his followers. This promise gave them hope and strength. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the message of this new way, this life of Christ, this blessed church that was now beginning to take hold, continued to grow and would once and for all encompass the whole world. And the tragedy that befell so many of his followers in those first few centuries was overcome by the light of God's promise, the granting of the new life, the new kingdom and the new earth. The feast that is to come?

What does it mean to live into the promise of the resurrection? To be witnesses to the ascension of Christ into heaven? 

In our creed, we declare that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead, and may discover a renewed anxiety about that. After all, aren't there things that we have done that are not in accordance with God's will for us? And I don't mean malicious acts, because I think honestly, few of us actively engage in mean spirited behavior. But maybe we act without thinking, failing to fully take in the consequences of even the best of our well-meaning acts. That maybe we don't have the full story before we make our decisions. Or that maybe we omitted to do something that we had planned.  We not only make confession of things we have done but things we have left undone. But we may worry about being judged in accordance with our inherent imperfections...

I know that as a teenager I could not stop thinking what I deemed as wicked things. I would lie awake at night trying wondering if God were to take me away at that very moment where would I wind up, trying to remember to ask for forgiveness at every opportunity and hoping against all hope that I hadn't forgotten anything. Because in my childish understanding of theological matters, law trumped all things, and it was only a matter of time that having asked God for forgiveness for all my previous sins, that my mind would wander to an impure thought or deed and I'd be unready to face the scales of eternal justice once more. 

But God doesn't play gotcha games with his creation. We don't worship some trickster deity who makes promises to us only to dash them away when we take the slightest wayward step off the righteous path. Our God is in love with the creation that God made. And Jesus Christ will judge both the living and the dead, remember, the Jesus that walked the earth was a friend to sinners. And the Jesus Christ in heaven is a friend to mankind as well, when we are judged we will be judged by a God who loves us and longs for us to be with him. 

Jesus Christ judges us while he gives us grace. And you can see why, when he ascended to heaven, his disciples were not awash with anxiety, but great joy! Christ is risen! Hallelujah! Our friend and beloved Jesus Christ, has ascended to a place of power and glory, and has not forgotten who his friends are! The sinful, beloved human race whom he gave his life for. 

And so when we proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins, it is good news! Our sins are washed away by the blood he shed for us, his gift to us that sustains us and sanctifies us forevermore. 

Christ is risen, allelujah! 


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