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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Peter's Second Sermon (Acts 3.6-26)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - June 8, 2014 (Pentecost)
Text: Acts 2:1-13,37-39

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Praise: "Raise Up the Crown/All Hail the Power" (arr. Tomlin)
Hymn of Praise: "Join All the Glorious NAmes" (DARWALL)
Offering of Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Sending: "Jesus, Name Above All Names" (Hearn)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
11 While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. 12 But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. 16 “And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all. 17 “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. 18 “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. 22 “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. 23 ‘And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24 “And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 25 “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 “For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” (Acts 3:11-26)
Electric typewriters became commonplace in the late 70s… many of you probably remember those. We had one at the church until just a few years ago. I remember playing on one at my dad’s office when I was a kid. Word processors starting coming out in the late 80s and were highly advised for students by the time I went to college in the early 90s. In fact, I earned some good spending money in college by typing other students’ papers on one of those early word processing programs. Throughout all that, my dad continued to type on the manual typewriter he had owned since college (or perhaps even high school?!). I remember thinking that if anyone would truly LOVE a word processor or computer, it would be my dad. I remember how he would create different size fonts by typing something on his manual typewriter, then enlarging it on the copy machine at work, something one could do on a word processor with the touch of a key. I would show him fancy flyers and documents, even creating them right in front of him on my laptop in the mid-90s, but he would stick to his manual typewriter and advanced copy machine technique. And then one day his manual typewriter was no more. There was no one who could repair it and no parts were available to do so. I remember saying, “Not only can you make this change, these word processors were made just for people like you! You will absolutely love it!” And finally he did make the change; and he did love it. Bold, italic, underline, font-sizes, different fonts, COLORS! You should have seen how he ran with it.

That experience reminds me of the story in Acts 3. There a group of people witnessed the miraculous healing of the man begging at the Beautiful Gate. They were amazed, but unbelieving. They wanted to know what was going on, but they had already rejected the answer to what was going on. And Peter led them through a process not unlike the one I lived through with my dad. He told the underlying story so that they would know what was going on; and he invited them to change their mind, not only that they might understand, but because what was going on was just for people like them! This was not just an interesting side-story; this was THEIR story, and Peter wanted them to receive it.

There and Back Again

Last week Royallen preached to us from the text right before this in Acts 3. It was the story of the encounter between Peter, John, and a lame man begging at the Beautiful Gate. Most notably, Peter and John did not have silver and gold to give him, but gave him what they did have, namely Jesus, saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!” (v. 6) Our text picks up right after that, with people rushing to the scene to see the miracle. They are described as “full of amazement.” (v. 11) It is at this point that Peter begins to speak, giving the second sermon of his recorded in Acts.

Peter asks the crowd, “Why are you amazed… why do you gaze at us, as if by our power or piety we made him walk?” (v. 12) It’s a great question, setting Peter up to talk about Jesus, the source of that power and, as Peter said earlier, what he DOES have to share. But first, Peter is going to walk the crowd through the whole story about Jesus, starting with “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers.” (v. 13) He goes from there to remind the crowd that only weeks ago they had exchanged Jesus’ life for the murderer, Barabbas, and cried out for his crucifixion. (vv. 13b-14) But Peter also gives witness to the resurrection, again pointing to the power and plan of God. (v. 15) It is this same power and this same Jesus that Peter names as the source of the man’s healing and the real reason they should be amazed.

Then in good Jewish fashion, Peter takes a second run through the story, pointing to the promises of God “announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets”… much that we read and discussed all spring as we looked at Jesus’ quotation of the Old Testament scriptures. (vv. 17-18) And Peter moves from that religious history lesson to a personal invitation – to “repent and return.” (v. 19) Peter has told the story of God twice, reminded the people of their culpability before God, and now invites them to return to God. There are several consequences that will follow that repentance and returning: 1) “that your sins may be wiped away”; 2) “that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord”; 3) “that He may (again) send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you.” (vv. 19-20)

In even better Jewish fashion, Peter returns a third time to the story, noting that Moses prophesied these things: “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says.” (v. 22) And Peter reminds them that “all the prophets… have spoken… from Samuel and his successors onward.” (v. 24)

Finally, to underscore the invitation to return and repent, Peter reminds the people “it is YOU who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant.” (v. 25) It is “for you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” (v. 26)

Do you follow what he is saying? Though the people are drawn to the miraculous, they rejected the true miracle of God’s Messiah, Jesus. Yet Jesus is not only what they really are looking for, but also God’s intended gift FOR them, planned and covenanted from ancient times (and even before!). Said another way, “you may think a lame man walking is something, but God has done something even more extraordinary for YOU; come to him and receive it!”

It reminds me of the feeding of the 5,000. The crowd was drawn to this miracle with fish and bread, but Jesus insisted that feeding hungry stomachs was not the real miracle. Rather, it was the Bread of Heaven – God’s provision for spiritually hungry people. When that crowd thought he was then talking about Moses and the really famous miracle of manna, Jesus insisted all the more: “No, I mean ME; God has sent ME to you.” (John 6)

Peter is consistent and insistent; he has nothing to offer except Jesus. And that’s just what he does; he shows them Jesus, the one God sent to them despite their betrayal, as promised to them from the beginning.

Ordinary People, Extraordinary God

Last week Royallen finished with a really compelling image, that Good Shepherd is a kind of “Beautiful Gate” where we experience the presence and power of God. And that is true! But don’t confuse the Beautiful Gate for the Beautiful Savior. Let me retell today’s encounter through the lens of this church.

This is a wonderful place; I have been drawn to the compassion, community, and care of this place as many of you have. I love the people; I love the ministry; I love the worship. I love how music and art have become part of who we are and what we do. I love the rich diversity of ages and experiences. I love the freedom to not pretend to have everything together, to be honest and open and struggle together. I see people drawn here and surprised, touched, moved, welcomed, found, belonging, and even amazed.

Sometimes, maybe even much of the time, we are also the ones who have lost our way, given up on God, struggling to believe; at times we are even those who have betrayed and denied and turned away from God. Yet we know something is going on here. It’s not unlike those who saw something unusual, something MORE, at the Beautiful Gate that day.

And what I want to tell you is what I think Peter would tell you. As great as all this is, from the music to the people to the warm fellowship, the real treasure to be found here is Jesus. I know that can sound cliché, but I mean it with every fiber of my being. That is what is extraordinary about this place. At the end of the day, we are ordinary people gathered around an extraordinary God. And if we enjoy all the rest but miss what God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ right here, we’ve missed the main thing, the treasure, the real amazing thing.

Because like those to whom Peter spoke, it is precisely for YOU, a collection of rebellious, doubting, struggling, sin-filled people, that God shows up here. That is the Good News message: that God has come for you, God invites you, God wants you, and God uses you. YOU! …and me! Can you believe that?

I am glad you are here today, for whatever reason you are here. But listen to God’s Word through Peter: God is here today for you. Let that sink in and soak in. Maybe you need to hear it for the first time. Maybe you need to repent and return. Maybe you need to be reminded. Whatever the reason you are here today, know that God is here… for you. Halleluiah, Amen.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Evangelism - Sharing What We Have (Acts 3.1-10)

Sermon by: Royallen Wiley - June 22, 201
Text: Acts 3:1-10; Proverbs 12:17-19

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Koinonia (Acts 2.42-47, Heb 10.19-25)

Sermon by: Kathy Larson - June 15, 201
Text: Acts 2:42-47; Hebrews 10:19-25

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Power and Witness (Acts 2.1-13,37-39)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - June 8, 2014 (Pentecost)
Text: Acts 2:1-13,37-39

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Arioso and Trumpet Voluntary" (Handel and Young)
Song of Praise: "Build Your Kingdom Here" (Rend Collective Experiment)
Hymn of Response: "Go to the World!" (ENGLEBERG)
The Word in Music: "Mysterious Ways" [link] (Jim Terrell
Offering of Music: "Softly and Tenderly" (W. Thompson)
Hymn of Sending: "Go Forth for God (v. 4)" (GENEVA12)
Postlude: "Jesus Shall Reign" (G. Sikes)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 11 …we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” 12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:1-13,37-39)
Today is Pentecost Sunday, when we remember the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit on those early followers of Jesus. We have looked in recent weeks at the importance of God’s power at work in the world. Yet, we also have seen that Jesus challenged his followers (and us) to be witnesses to what God is doing. So when it comes to our ministry and mission, there is that critical combination of God’s power and human witness. We see that play out in Acts 2 along with a range of human responses.

In this passage we see three human responses.

POWER (vv. 1-13)

First, in verses 1-13, in response to the pure power of the Holy Spirit, displayed through “tongues of fire” and hearing the disciples speak in multiple languages, there are two distinct responses.

1.    Amazed and astonished (vv. 7-12) –
Many of those present on the day of Pentecost heard the Galilean Jews speaking in their own language. A long list of nationalities is included in the passage. We read in v. 7 that some “were amazed and astonished” and continued “in amazement and great perplexity.” They asked each other what it all meant.

2.    Doubtful, even mocking (v. 13) –
Others were neither amazed or astonished, writing it all off to drunkenness on the part of the disciples. Some pressed further and made fun of the disciples.

I’ve seen both reactions. I’ve had both reactions. We see something we don’t understand and we have to decide between the natural and the supernatural explanation. And some of us are probably more open to mystery and miracle than others, which is understandable. Having said that, to descend into outright mockery of the divine or of faith is another thing altogether. Yet, I’ve come to realize that making fun of God or followers of God usually is a cover for something else that is often between that person and God.

Nonetheless, what occurs to me, especially knowing what is coming, is that there is no shortage of God’s power here in this passage, and yet it is not at this point that people respond in faith. I’ve often heard – and thought myself – that if God would just unleash a few good tangible and measurable miracles, that many would believe. But this makes me question that. Probably it would just scare us and the best we’d manage is to either write it off or to be amazed without understanding.

And this is where the way that God has arranged things begins to make more sense to me. Why is it that God chooses to involve us in witnessing to His power? It is because we respond to story; we respond to incarnation – to fleshed-out reality.

WITNESS (vv. 37-39)

3.    Believing, pierced to the heart (v. 37)
– So after Peter shares the story of Jesus, we read that those present were “pierced to the heart.”

In our scripture reading, Peter’s message is just referenced as ‘this’ – “Now when they heard this” (v. 37). What Peter had done was what Jesus told him to do: he gave witness. He talked about God’s promise to send his spirit. He talked about God’s plan to send Jesus into the world. He talked about history and hopes and those four things we looked at last week: incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. He talked about and gave witness to Jesus as Lord.

And the people heard it. They heard it because it resonated with truth and it resonated with power – God’s truth and God’s power. Peter just gave witness to both. And their response back to Peter was, “What shall we do?” (v. 37) Peter answered in three ways:

First, repent; turn around. Stop going that way and go this way. Listen to what God’s power and truth are doing in your heart right now.

And act outwardly on that inward change. Receive baptism as a sign of God’s forgiveness of your sin. Take the mark; humble yourself. Take God’s story into and onto your story through this rich symbol of belonging.

And get ready; God will give you the gift of His Spirit. That’s not just a personal promise, but God’s story unfolding in you, the next generations, and many yet far off.

What Will YOU Do With Jesus?

The practical question that raises for all of us is this: what will YOU do with Jesus? Which of those responses best fits where you are today?

Does all of this God-stuff just sound like mysteries and miracles? Or like mythological stories empty of real power and meaning? At the end of the day, you just don’t get it?

Or has the way Christianity has developed in so many places in our culture given you reason to disbelieve or mock? If so, I get it; I do.

In fact, those are the two most common responses out there; confusion or disbelief. What of the third option? When does that happen for us, separated by thousands of years from Pentecost and eye-witness disciples?

I think – and I think scripture teaches us – that what pierces us to the heart, stirring up faith and repentance and obedience, is God’s power combined with authentic testimony or witness. It’s not enough to just tell the Bible stories if we don’t seek and welcome God’s presence and power. And I don’t think we could handle or believe God showing up without the context, instruction, and explanation of scripture and lives lived out for the sake of Christ. But when both happen, and I believe they both still do, I think that’s when faith is stirred. That’s when our hearts are pierced by truth and grace and we become open to God working in our life.

If you’ve grown up or spent much time at Good Shepherd, you’ve heard the stories of God. You’ve been witnessed to and know the narrative. But has God shown up in your life in power? What would you do if He did? While I think you would be amazed, I don’t think you’d wander confused for too long, because you know too much of the story. I think the bigger question would be how you’d respond.

When you get the scent of God showing up and stirring your heart, what do you do? Do you clamp down and push away the possibilities? Are you open to repentance, to change, to God shaking things up?

And the next verses in Acts gives me some clue of what happens next when God gets a hold of individuals and communities of faith.  The people who responded to the message, the Spirit, and the Savior were “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  Inviting God to come be involved in the most intimate parts of your life will draw you deeper into the family of God through the Church.  You will hunger to hear the Word; you will desire the encouragement and accountability of fellowship in the body; you will desire to be fed by the Word and sacrament; and you will desire to talk more often and deeply with your Heavenly Father in prayer.

Next week I will be out of town at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. But Kathy Larson will be teaching and preaching on those next verses as we contemplate what living them out at Good Shepherd might look like. I urge you to be here and to hear God’s Word proclaimed.

Come; repent; believe – whether for the first time or a new time.  And receive both grace and the promised Spirit of help and hope.  Amen!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

With Jesus (Acts 1.9-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - June 1, 2014
Text: Acts 1:9-11

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Sermon Video (kind of) 
Trying something new here... it's the PowerPoint slides with the audio playing in a youtube video format. It should make it easier to listen right on this page. If you like this format, please let me know in the comments or by e-mail and I'll keep doing it!

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Fairest Lord Jesus" (Heather Sorenson)
Song of Praise: "Beautiful Savior" (Stuart Townend)

Hymn of Praise: "Christ High-Ascended" (Dudley-Smith; SHADES MOUNTAIN)
Hymn of Response: "Lord, Your Church on Earth is Seeking" (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Offering of Music: "Here I Am, Lord" (Shutte/Courtney)
Communion Hymn: "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus" (HYFRYDOL)
Hymn of Sending: "Go Forth for God (v. 3)" (GENEVA12)
Postlude: "Praise the Lord! Ye Heavens, Adore Him" (Don Phillips)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)
Today we recognize a very important event that happened only a few weeks after the resurrection of Jesus; actually, 40 days to be precise. Did you guess Pentecost??  No…. that’s 10 days later – we’ll celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost next Sunday.  It’s the Ascension.  When Jesus appeared to Mary on Easter morning (John 20:17) he said, “I have not yet ascended to the Father.”  Well this is it – Jesus ascends… he goes up into Heaven to be with God the Father.

So what’s important about the Ascension of Jesus?  It’s not as big a deal as the “biggies” is it?
  • Incarnation: Jesus’ birth and God’s putting-on of human flesh to live among us
  • Crucifixion: Jesus’ death, which atoned for our sin and “made right with God” all who believe
  • Resurrection: Jesus’ victory over death, which we now share through faith in him
I’ll admit that for most of my life I’ve just thought the Ascension was Jesus’ “trip back to Heaven” – that’s it, end of story.  But there’s so much more! And this isn’t just a random excursion into an obscure theological area: it has everything to do with God’s power and purpose that we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks.

The Ascension Narrative (Acts 1)

So let’s start with the narrative – the account of Jesus’ Ascension.  It’s short and sweet and it’s there in Acts 1, and the actual Ascension is only one verse long.  After speaking to his followers, Jesus “was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” (v. 9)  That’s about it.  As you can imagine, they just stood and stared, “gazing intently into the sky while He was going.” (v. 10)  But what else can we get from the context here?

We have two main things: what Jesus said before he left and what the angel messengers said after he left.

Before leaving, Jesus final words had to do with the promise of the Holy Spirit, which would come to empower his followers to be witnesses far and near.  This was in contrast to their question of “restoring the kingdom to Israel.”  Instead, Jesus taught (as he had always taught), God’s Kingdom was not of this world. He had frequently made that point through miraculous and supernatural signs and he was about to demonstrate that with one last miraculous sign: his Ascension into the heavens.  I will also simply note for now the very close connection between the promise and work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ Ascension. More on that later!

After he left, two “men in white clothing” appeared and the basic content of their message signaled that Jesus would one day return in the same manner as his leaving. (v. 11)

But what does it all mean?!

The Meaning of the Ascension

Let me mention several benefits of Jesus’ Ascension to the believer, and you will see these outlined in the confession of faith we’ll use later in the service.  You can also see the scripture referenced there on the back of the bulletin.  There are at least four benefits of the Ascension for those who believe. 

1.    A Heavenly Advocate

One of the important realities of Jesus being at the right hand of the Father is that Jesus took our humanity with him.  He is our advocate, and our righteous one at that.  Romans 8:34 tells us that Jesus is not only the one who died, but is the one who was raised and is at the right hand of God, and is the one “who also intercedes for us.”  That is why we pray “in Jesus’ name,” because he is our representative, our advocate, our intercessor.  It is as if Jesus tacks on to our every prayer, “…and this prayer is from Sarah, the one I love, the one I died for, the one who I have made a place for with us; listen to her!”  Can you imagine having such an advocate, because you do!

But that verse from Romans goes even beyond that.  As one who intercedes for us, Jesus prays and presents our needs to the Father even when we can’t!  Have you ever felt like your prayers go nowhere or that you simply don’t have the words to pray?  Jesus is praying on your behalf.  That is one of the real benefits to the Ascension, because Jesus took our human experience with him.  He didn’t shed it on earth, but took a real humanity back into the presence of God.  Jesus prays for you!

2.    A Heavenly Humanity

Building on that idea of Jesus taking our humanity with him back into the presence of God, is the assurance – a “sure pledge” as the confession says – that he will take us with him.  Jesus didn’t come for a visit, heal a few people, and then return back to the bliss of Heaven.  Rather, he came and PUT ON humanity, becoming one of us – living, suffering, and dying as one of us.  Even in the defeat of death he didn’t leave humanity behind.  He went out of his way after Easter to demonstrate that he still had an eating, drinking, touchable, human body.  And he took it with him into Heaven.  Romans 6:5 tells us that we shall certainly be united with him in “the likeness of His resurrection.”  I’d also point you to John 14:2, Jesus’ words to his disciples right before his crucifixion.  He told them that he was going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. 

3.    A Heavenly Heart

One interesting aspect of the Ascension is that it draws our attention to “heavenly things.”  While there is an apt cliché about Christians sometimes “being so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good,” in this day and age the opposite is probably
more often the problem.  We are so rational and science-minded and sense-oriented that we’ve lost all appreciation of what the ancients called “mystery.”  We spend so much time with TV, computers, smart phones, traffic, and 1000 other things that we rarely take time out to contemplate the character of God or the deeper questions of faith. 

If we say we are Christian, there are earthly and heavenly implications.  Followers of Christ do need a re-set on earthly matters as we grow in what it means to love our neighbor, speaking and demonstrating the love of God in the community and world around us.  But we also are to fix our minds on Christ, and if he is seated with the Father in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6), then we should, from time to time, find our mind and hearts pondering those mysteries.  What does it mean to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength – particularly if that informs and shapes our love of neighbor?  What and why do we gather to WORSHIP God in spirit and truth?  That seeking of heavenly things is what makes this time together more than some good music, hanging out with friends, and an instructive message.

4.    A Heavenly Gift

Jesus also said more than once that the Holy Spirit would not come until he went away.  Though God’s Spirit has always been existent and active in the world (just look through the Old Testament for many examples), there was a certain “outpouring” that had been promised and linked to the coming of God’s Kingdom and Jesus indicated that the Spirit would come in this way after he had gone. (John 16:7)  Next week we will celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit in this promised way. 

The benefits I have previously mentioned are anchored and secured in Heaven because Jesus has carried our resurrected and redeemed humanity there with him.  But the gift of the Holy Spirit is that we are connected with him now!  Those heavenly realities have earthly implications because of the “Holy Spirit glue” of being connected to the Ascended Christ.  I often remind you that God is present and active here in the world; what is also true is that the Christian is spiritually present with God through the Ascended Christ and the work of the Spirit! This is one reason we can experience the power and presence of God as we’ve been talking about in recent weeks.

The Ascension Applied

Does all that seem to theological and remote? 

Here’s a way to understand all this that I have used before: If the Incarnation is Jesus coming to find us as we are drowning in the middle of the lake, the Crucifixion and Resurrection are Jesus throwing us a life preserver that we might be rescued and live.  But the Ascension is Jesus reeling us back in – to safety and to home.  And of course the reality is so much more vivid – God didn’t just toss us a life preserver, He swam out to save us.  In His Ascension, Jesus carries us BACK HOME with him.  That’s good news in the long run and there are life-changing benefits of that reality in the here and now.  We have an Advocate; we have a “sure pledge” of home; we have a focal point for our worship and service; and we have an outpouring of spiritual gifts and God’s power. 

Or consider this comparison: imagine yourself as a child, playing with friends a few doors from home.  Of course you would be focused on the friends and play before you.  But doesn’t it matter what is back home?  Doesn’t knowing that a mom or dad or grandparent is back in the house give you security, freedom, and confidence in what you are doing, knowing that if you get hurt you have a comforter and advocate who will take care of you or take you to the doctor?  It’s also your HOME – what a difference that makes to know you have food and shelter and a bed waiting for you… a sure thing because it’s held for you.  And as parents, don’t we trust that our love and teaching of our children remains with them when they are far from home, guiding their choices and drawing their hearts and minds back with us?  And even if you did not know that security as a child, have you seen it? Can you imagine it? So it is all the more with Jesus, who has taken our humanity home to be with his Father and our Father.  It makes all the difference in the world!

Perhaps the key significance of the Ascension is that Jesus takes us with him.  In John 14:3, Jesus tells his disciples that he will go and prepare a place for them – a home with God.  The Ascension is Jesus making good on that promise.  He has gone to the Heavenly Father, purchased access for us, provided for our adoption into the family of God, and makes ready a place “that where he is we might also be.”  In Romans 10:6, Paul asks “Who will ascend into Heaven.. that is, to bring Christ down?”  The answer is, “No one.”  We can’t go get God or salvation – God had to come all the way down to us to get us.  And He has done that in Jesus Christ, who has not only come for us, but has gone back home to Heaven so we can have a spiritual home with him now and join him at the last. Good news, indeed.  Amen!

Profession of Faith from the Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

Q.46    What do you mean by saying, “He ascended to heaven”?
A.         That Christ, while his disciples watched, was taken up from the earth into heaven1 and remains there on our behalf2 until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.3

Q.49    How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?
A.         First, he is our advocate in heaven in the presence of his Father.1 Second, we have our own flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that Christ our head will also take us, his members, up to himself.2 Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a corresponding pledge.3 By the Spirit’s power we seek not earthly things but the things above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.4

Q.50    Why the next words: “and is seated at the right hand of God”?
A.         Because Christ ascended to heaven to show there that he is head of his church,1 the one through whom the Father rules all things.2

Q.51    How does this glory of Christ our head benefit us?
A.         First, through his Holy Spirit he pours out gifts from heaven upon us his members.1 Second, by his power he defends us and keeps us safe from all enemies.2
Scriptural References in the Heidelberg Confession, Questions 46,49-51
Q.46 - 1 Acts 1:9; Mt. 26:64; Mk. 16:19; Lk. 24:51; 2 Heb. 4:14; 7:15–25; 9:11; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 4:10; Col. 3:1; 3 Acts 1:11; Mt. 24:30; Q.49 - 1 1 Jn. 2:1–2; Rom. 8:34; 2Jn. 14:2; 20:17; Eph. 2:6; 3 Jn. 14:16; 16:7; Acts 2; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; 4 Col. 3:1; Phil. 3:14; Q.50 - 1 Eph. 1:20–23; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2 Mt. 28:18; Jn. 5:22; Q.51 - 1 Eph. 4:10; 2 Ps. 2:9;110:1-2; Jn 10:28; Eph. 4:8