< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Sunday 16 May 2021

First Reading: Acts 1:1-11

1In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

First Reading: Acts 1:12-26 (7th Sunday of Easter)

12{The apostles} returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. 15In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20“For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.’ 21So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Psalm 47

1Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with a cry of joy. 2For the Lord Most High is to be feared; he is the great king over all the earth. 3He subdues the peoples under us, and the nations under our feet. 4He chooses our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. 5God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the ram’s horn. 6Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our king, sing praises. 7For God is king of all the earth; sing praises with all your skill. 8God reigns over the nations; God sits upon his holy throne. 9The nobles of the peoples have gathered together with the people of the God of Abraham. 10The rulers of the earth belong to God, and he is highly exalted.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23

15For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far 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. 22And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Gospel: Luke 24:44-53

44Then {Jesus} said to {the eleven disciples and those who were with them}, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” 50And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53and were continually in the temple blessing God.

Don’t Get into Things!

The lessons we read this week are for Ascension Day, which was this past Thursday (May 13), and the readings for the seventh Sunday of Easter, today (May 16), go hand in hand.  St. Luke, in both his gospel and the readings from Acts, describes the end of a beginning and the beginning of a life lived towards a new end.  Luke concludes his gospel with Jesus’ final earthly directives to His disciples.  The emphasis of these final words is on how all aspects of scripture “the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms” were fulfilled through His suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Jesus last week redefined His disciples as friends and now He takes this opportunity to further redefine them as “witnesses” to this new truth, this new reality.  Luke’s text also provides some tension as Jesus offers these last words.  Jesus pledges to “send” that which the Father has “promised”, that is the Holy Spirit.  But it’s a “not yet” event.  This promise is joined to a final directive to the disciples — that they are to “stay in Jerusalem until [they] have been clothed with power from on high.”  In other words, Jesus promises that a tremendous power is to be bestowed upon them, but for now, these “witnesses” are to sit tight and wait.

Jesus’ ascension is described by Luke with language that recalls events in the life of Moses, both as he raises his hands (see Exodus 17:11) and as he offers his blessing (see Exodus 29:43) on the people.  There are also priestly overtones (see Leviticus 9:22‑23) to this telling of the story.  And the disciples’ response to Jesus’ ascension “into heaven” is appropriate, they “worshipped him.”  They literally prostrated themselves as an act of homage.  Unlike the first “joyful” response the disciples experienced upon seeing the risen Christ on the evening of His resurrection, which was clouded with “disbelieving” and “wondering,” this second experience of “great joy” is unmarred by confusion.  In obedience to Jesus’ directive, these overjoyed disciples return to Jerusalem and concentrate their energies on “blessing God” while they await the new beginning of their life in the Spirit.

But Jesus’ “witnesses” — seemed to grow a bit impatient with their routine of waiting and witnessing.  In the Acts readings, both for Ascension and the seventh Sunday of Easter, Luke continues their story, focusing on this odd intervening period between Jesus’ return to the Father and the Day of Pentecost.  Yes, the disciples are “witnesses” to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, but they have not yet been empowered with the transformative gift of the Holy Spirit.  And this time of waiting seemed to be more difficult than some might expect.  So it comes as no surprise that Peter takes it upon himself to do some housekeeping among the disciples.

The betrayal and death of Judas Iscariot had reduced the number of Jesus’ chosen ones from the symbolically significant number of twelve to the awkward prime number of eleven.  And for whatever reason, Peter decides that this time waiting is the perfect opportunity to rectify that problem and to restore their numbers.  The twelve disciples were viewed as the representatives of the twelve tribes, the people of Israel.  If all Israel was to be redeemed and restored, then all twelve tribes, all facets of the population, must be represented.  For this reason, Peter seems compelled to take care of this situation so that the apostolic circle is restored before the miracle of Pentecost occurs.

So Peter, as usual, takes it upon himself to be “large and in charge.”  He stands before the gathered group of believers and takes on the touchy subject of Judas.  Peter reminds those present, first of Judas’ treachery, becoming “a guide for those who arrested Jesus,” and then of the official status Judas had held within the community of disciples — “he was allotted among us.”  And he shared “in this ministry.”  This is important language for us today as fellow witnesses because we too were chosen and share in Jesus’ ministry.

To defend his decision, Peter quotes Psalms (108:8; 68:26) to provide justification for the necessity of choosing a new member to be apart of the inner circle, the Twelve.  Just as it was “necessary” to fulfill scripture that Judas betrayed Jesus, so it is now “necessary” for a new member be selected to take his place.  Peter himself then proposes the requirements — one who had been present since Jesus’ baptism at John’s hand and who was present as a “witness” to His resurrection.  And interestingly, the choosing of this new disciple is achieved through prayer and the casting of lots.

Casting lots to determine important decisions was traditional in Israel.  For those in the early church, God’s decision was understood as already having been made and was simply made known to others through this human activity.  Matthias is then revealed as the chosen one to fill the void left by Judas.  It leaves us to wonder, did the disciples really follow Jesus’ command to wait in the city, or, did they allow the temptation to “get into things” cloud their judgement?  It seems that being patient and obedient are hard commands for us to follow.

“Don’t get into things!”  Sound familiar?  How many times did we hear that directive as a kid?  Mom had to run to the store for a minute, or Dad was tied up on a project out in the barn or the shop.  Knowing what children will do when left to their own devices, this last-ditch effort of “out‑of‑sight” parenting is the generic and ultimately unenforceable order — “Don’t get into things!”  Honestly, did this command ever stop anyone from snooping for the Christmas presents or gorging themselves on the forbidden snacks?  And this temptation doesn’t necessarily apply only to kids.  Even as young adults, didn’t the prohibition of a forbidden act do more to pique the curiosity than it did to appease it?  As many of you know, the Military is full of prohibitions.

For those who served in the Military, when first starting out, more often than not, you’re given, in no uncertain terms mind you, a laundry list of things, actions or activities that are prohibited.  Furthermore, you’re expected to follow the orders given and trust that there’s a reason for the restrictions.  Then, as you progressed in rank, these prohibitions were further explained and hopefully you refrained from the prohibited activities because you understood the reason.  Again, even though you understood the reasons, this didn’t always stop folks from, for example, “ridding the buffer.”

As an amusing anecdote, one of the prohibitions we were given as young Airmen was not to ride the buffer.  For those unfamiliar with this piece of equipment, a floor buffer is used to strip and polish tiled floors.  The buffing pad on these large machines are some two feet across, and the motor on the buffer is 1½ horsepower.  Stripping, waxing and buffing the floors was a boring job that took hours.  In most cases it took two people, and the alure of allowing one person to sit atop one of these machines while the other controlled it was very enticing.  As you can imagine, between the power of the machine and the slickness of the newly polished floor, a person could quickly get into trouble by either getting hurt or by damage expensive equipment or facilities.  Not that your pastor was ever guilty of “riding the buffer”. 

The point I’m trying to make is that as we progress in life we’re taught the lessons we need to succeed.  As we learn and grow in our chosen professions, we become more knowledgeable and are given more responsibility.  With this responsibility also comes trust and independence.  In other words, when we start out, we receive instructions on how to do things and we are watched closely as we preform our duties.  Once we demonstrate a mastery of the tasks, the supervisor will be involved less and less until we reach a point where we need minimal supervision.  This doesn’t mean we ever stop learning and growing in our professions, it means that the boss doesn’t need to be physically present, they just need to be available when we need assistance.  Our lives as disciples is no different.  Consider Jesus’ ministry here on earth.

When Jesus first started in His ministry, He called His disciples and spent 3 years teaching, coaching and sending them out to practice and apply what He had taught them to do.  At the end of that 3 years, He fulfilled the reason for His coming by giving Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.  Then, 3 days later, by the power of the Father, He was raised from the dead in order to defeat the last enemy, death, and give us hope for life eternal.  After His resurrection, He spent another 40 days in final instruction with His disciples in order to prepare them for life without Him being physically present.  This brings us to our readings for today.

As you recall, Jesus’ resurrection was the miraculous “happy ending” His disciples had never imagined possible.  His physical presence in their midst, eating and talking with them, filled them with wonder and confused joy.  Then His “opening up the Scriptures” opened their blurry eyes to understand God’s drama of salvation, of which they were now an integral part.  Receiving Jesus’ blessing and witnessing His ascension finally brought these disciples to a place of faith that they had never before inhabited.  They were now first-hand believers in the resurrection.  

They took to heart His promise of the gift of the Spirit.  Their faith went, almost overnight, from being unhinged, to being untroubled by doubt.  They were now ready to go out and do what Jesus had been teaching them to do, but now they were to do this without His physical presence with them.  And before He left them to return to the Father, He gave them one final directive; return to Jerusalem and wait.

In their newfound joy and confidence, the disciples obediently stayed in Jerusalem, praying in the temple, offering blessings to God, and waiting for the promised Holy Spirit.  Jesus had specifically told them to “stay there and wait” for the promised gift of the Spirit that was to come.  Basically, Jesus told the disciples, “Don’t get into things” until His presence, in the form of the Holy Spirit, came upon them.

What we need to be mindful of, is that God’s plan of salvation and redemption didn’t come to an end at the moment of Jesus’ ascension.  There was more to come.  Jesus’ “stay in Jerusalem” directive cautioned His disciple, His witnesses to not get ahead of God, to not go ahead of Jesus.  Disciples are followers — and no one can follow if they’ve run off ahead of their leader.  Yes, Jesus prepared the disciples for what was to come next, but they needed the power and authority to act, and that empowerment and blessing was to come through the Holy Spirit.

When parents warn the kids “don’t get into things” it’s because they know that children don’t yet have the tools needed to navigate the dangers of this world.  The same concern and compassion for His children had Jesus order His disciples to sit still and sit tight in Jerusalem, until the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Once empowered, once united by the Holy Spirit, these witnesses of the resurrection would be ready to take on the world.  But not before.   They were to not get into things until it was time.

We’re still commanded to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit, the living presence of the risen Christ, before we strike out into the world.  Jesus’ disciples were always such a diverse, disparate group.  They got‑along to get‑along, but they operated as individuals, jockeyed for the position of “favorite,” worried about their individual reputations.  After Pentecost however, those Jesus had chosen became an impenetrable force of faithfulness and fearless witnesses to the world.

In today’s text when Peter decides that it’s time to elect a new disciple, he stands alone before the gathered group of believers and pitches his plan.  After Pentecost, even though Peter still often acts as spokesman, he is described as “standing with the eleven” (Acts 2:14).  When Peter stands alone, he gets in trouble.  When Peter “stands with the eleven,” he is upheld, empowered, and informed by the uniting presence of the Holy Spirit.  The individual disciples, the “Twelve tribes,” have been transformed into a coherent community of faith.  It is as a Spirit‑driven community, not as individuals, that the witnessing mission of the gospel goes out into the world.

Not long ago the movie The Avenges broke box‑office records.  Yes, it’s just another bunch of comic‑book heroes waging yet another cool 3‑D battle against bad guys.  But “The Avengers” offers one new note to this traditional tale.  In previous movies, comics, and adventures, these super‑heroes proved their “super‑ness” by using their own unique powers to overcome the forces of evil and destruction.  In “The Avengers,” not one of these chosen heroes are enough on their own.  They had to work together as a team in order to save the world.  A uniting force drove them and bound them to work together so that they might succeed.

After Pentecost the disciples, the “chosen twelve,” and the 120 of the other faithful, and all those who were to come, were joined together on the same team.  They were given strength through the Holy Spirit, not to act alone, but to act together as a united body, the body of Christ in the world.  Today we live in a world where people are hurting, alone and ever more isolated from each other.  The needs and problems of others can seem overwhelming if we try to meet those needs and bear witness to the Risen Christ by ourselves.  However, when we stand together in unity, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can reach out in a powerful way and bear witness to the love and healing power of God’s grace and mercy shown to us in our risen and reigning Lord.


Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

< back to Sermon archive