In ranking the most important dates of
the church calendar, Easter Sunday usually is at the top. Not far behind
is Pentecost which we will celebrate next Sunday. But a case can be
made for Ascension Sunday to be equally as important.
Ascension Day or maybe a better title for this day is “Kicking the birds out of the nest Sunday” because that’s basically what Jesus did when he ascended into heaven. The only way the disciples were going to continue what Jesus had started would be for them to get our of their nest and learn to fly.
Imagine the puzzled look on their faces when the day finally came for Jesus to ascend into heaven. Luke tells us that when Jesus ascended, they just stood there watching. They weren’t ready for that day. But are we ever ready for moments like this?
A pastor, upon reflection of what the disciples must have been feeling in that moment offers this memory from his childhood.
He says he can vividly remember Saturdays during his childhood. His dad would haul he and his younger brother in a battered yellow El Camino car to a remote section of their small farm. He says that they only had 50 acres but at the time, it seemed like they drove for miles.
He and his brother would get out of the car and their father gave them instructions on what they were to do – weeding, fertilizing, planting, painting. And then he would show them the way he wanted it done.
They were handed a bucket of supplies and some water. And then just like that, he drove away. He left them there expecting them to complete the work he had already started and now wanted them to complete.
Even when left with directions, it’s so much easier when the person who trained us stays right there with us. Why on earth did Jesus leave those disciples?!
They weren’t ready for this! They were still asking Jesus a bunch of questions. And instead of Jesus answering them, he gave them a job to do. The job was for them to continue sharing the good news of God’s kingdom made present through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Sometimes, we just need a little push out of the nest to start flying on our own.
There was a stage during my teenage years when my mother sensed that it was time for me to get out of the nest. She could tell that I was bored during summer break one year.
My mother actually told me and I’ll never forget her words. She said, “You need to go out and do something different, anything! Just go! Get into trouble or something. Quit wasting your summer away.”
I remember thinking, “Did mom just tell me to get into trouble?” Of course, I knew what she meant. She was just wanting me to get out of my rut.
Maybe this was a little of what Jesus was doing with the disciples. “How long have you been by my side? How long has it been since I was raised from the dead? We’ve gone over and over what you need to know. It’s time for me to go now and it’s time for you too carry on what I started. Later. Bye.”
Jesus leaves us with unfinished business. It’s up to us. But what incredible unfinished business it is. Jesus is calling each one of us in our own unique ways to offer God’s healing love to the people around us.
Have you ever heard of the church committee that had work that needed to be done? The names of the people on the committee were Everybody, Somebody, and Anybody.
Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
When Jesus left the disciples with unfinished business, he also left them with important tools and supplies to get the job done. Jesus didn’t leave them empty handed. Luke tells us that Jesus gave them the important tool of power. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” Jesus tells them. And just like that, Jesus is gone, driving away leaving us with thousands of miles to be seeded, planted, watered, and harvested.
Oh, I almost forgot, Jesus also gave them a a strategy. He told them to start here in Jerusalem. And from Jerusalem, just head west to the Judean towns, and then go north to Samaria, and from there, just keep on going, farther and farther out until you reach, well, until you reach the ends of the earth.
So we have the tools. We have the strategy. And now it’s time for Jesus to do what he needs to do. He needs to go to the Father so that he can send us the Holy Spirit which will arrive next Sunday at exactly 9 and 10:30 am when we celebrate Pentecost.
But here’s the thing. It’s not all up to one person to continue what Jesus has already started. It’s all of us. We all get to participate.
A Catholic Church in San Diego, California had a statue of Jesus just outside of it’s building. In 1980, the hands of Jesus were broken off by vandals. Imagine how that statue looked with a Jesus with no arms!
Instead of repairing the hands, the church very wisely decided to put up a plaque at the base of that Jesus statue that states, “I have no hands but yours.”
They borrowed this short phrase from a poem that was written by St. Teresa of Avila from the 16th century that begins: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.”
What a powerful thought. We are the body, the hands, and the feet of Christ. We each embody the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in our own unique ways.
Like the guy I met a couple of months ago who attends one of the United Methodist churches in our Foothills District. He was telling me how he became friends with someone he would see at the gym each week. As they continued to get to know each other, they began to form a friendship and he would offer to pray for him when he shared about a problem that he was facing.
This led him to share a little of his faith with him and the difference that Jesus has made in his life. He encouraged him to start attending a church near where he lived which he started doing. It happened to be another United Methodist Church in our district. The pastor of that church ended up baptizing him and this man has been attending church ever since and is growing in his faith.
This chain of events happened because this guy in the gym was the hands and feet of Christ.
Someone else recently shared about a widow in his church who, on the anniversary of her husband’s death, makes a point to thank him for walking with her through that heartbreaking journey. He says how he never ceases to be moved by this gesture and it reminds him of how important it is to live out our faith in these simple but life changing ways.
We are the hands and the feet of Christ.
And every Sunday morning, we are reminded of this and at the end of every worship service. We hear the benediction calling us to go forth from this place to be the hands and feet of Christ wherever we go. Why? Because like those first disciples, Jesus is calling us to continue what he has started. We are the hands and feet of Christ.
Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher tells the story of a town where only ducks live. Every Sunday morning, the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down the main street to their church.
They waddle into the cathedral and squat in their pews.
The duck choir sings and then the duck pastor comes and reads from the duck bible.
He encourages them, “Ducks, God has given you wings! And with these wings you can fly! With these wings you can rise up and soar like eagles! No walls can confine you, no fences can hold you. You have wings and you can fly like birds!”
And and all the ducks shout out, “Amen!”
And then they all waddle home.
Maybe this is what Ascension Day was like for the disciples. Jesus reminded them of who they were and that they will receive power to continue Jesus’ mission here on earth. They will be his hands and feet to continue what Jesus has started. And they will go out and make disciples of Jesus Christ and bring transformation to the world.
We are called to do the same. As we come forward to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we will receive all that we need to be the hands and feet of Christ in a broken and hurting world. Let’s go forth from this place and continue on what Jesus has started.
Christ has no body on earth, but yours.
Unfinished BusinessSermon Discussion QuestionsActs 1:1-11June 2, 2019
This is the time of year on the church calendar where we celebrate three important Sundays which include Easter Sunday (the resurrection of Jesus Christ), Ascension Sunday (when Jesus ascended into heaven), Pentecost Sunday (the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the early church), and Trinity Sunday (the celebration of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.)What questions do you have about these three special Sundays and why do you think we celebrate them each year?
On Ascension Sunday, we celebrate when Jesus “ascended” to his throne in heaven where he rules as King over all creation. Before ascending to his heavenly throne, Jesus tells the disciples to continue on his work here on earth. What kinds of emotions do you have about Jesus entrusting us to carry on his mission here on earth? Is it exciting? Scary? Confusing?
Jesus tells the disciples that he will leave them with a very important gift so they won’t be alone in carrying out his work here on earth. That gift is the Holy Spirit who will empower them to share the good news of Christ near and far. Jesus kept his promise because ten days later, the disciples received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost which we will celebrate next Sunday.Share a time when you felt empowered by the Holy Spirit to share the good news of Christ with others through word or deed. What was that like for you and the people you served?
There is a statue of Jesus in California in which his hands were broken off by vandals. Church leaders decided to not repair the statue and instead they put up a sign in front of it with words from St. Teresa of Avila who lived during the 16th century that says, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.” This creative idea emphasizes the meaning of Ascension Day where Jesus has given us the unfinished business to continue to share God’s love with our community and world.
Think of a specific way that you might be the hands and feet of Jesus this week through word and deed.