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Being Witnesses

You are witnesses of these things.  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”  Luke 24:48-49 (NRSV)

The ascension of Jesus is a rather strange image to our 21st century minds.  Maybe if we were great Star Trek watchers, we might remember “Beam me up, Scotty!”  I was always pretty fascinated with the whole molecular transference in that series.

However, the story of Jesus ascending into heaven is quite amazing, not because he was lifted into the heavens as much as the commission he gave his disciples.  Whether or not Jesus was actually taken into heaven and disappeared into clouds is what we tend to see and focus on for this particular Sunday, but the lasting effect of his returning to be with God did at least two things.

First, he returned from the earthly confines to his place in the heavenly realm after having brought the presence of God-in-the-flesh to earth.  And secondly, he left behind people whom he had trained for three years to carry on his work of sharing God’s love and spreading the Good News that God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy is for all people.

After the ascension, the disciples didn’t just stand there looking (as Acts 1 reports.  In Luke’s gospel (interesting that the writer of Luke was probably the writer of Acts, also!), the disciples returned to the temple to praise and worship and bless God.  They were actively involved in worship.

As the disciples grew in experience and knowledge, as well as being inspired by the Holy Spirit, they were sent out into the world.  They didn’t stay put; rather, they dispersed to other parts of the world as they knew it to proselytize and invite others to hear the message of God’s redemption and love in Jesus, the Christ.

Ascension Sunday is a reminder that we are counted among the disciples, as well.  The original commission may have been for the first century followers of Jesus, but even in the 21st century, we are called to be witnesses to our faith in our words and actions.  We become the invitation to know Christ because of the wonderful works God has done in our lives.

Ascension Sunday reminds us that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are also called and sent forth.  We are also asked and expected to carry on the work of Christ by bringing compassion, kindness, hope, healing, and love to the world.  And we are called to worship our God together as the Body of Christ.

How does that look in your life?

In what ways do you share your faith?

How do you share it every day?

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Ta Da!

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”!  John 20:18a

On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished.”  I’m pretty much assuming that means the work of redemption was finished, but in many ways “it” had only just begun.  The resurrection changed everything – it changed the world!  It changes us!

One of my favorite pictures of the resurrection is of Jesus standing just inside the tomb door and looking out.  I half expect him to jump out the door and holler, “Ta da!”  We don’t know what he did, but we do know that his resurrection turned the world upside down and change millions of lives.

Easter is the primary focus of Christianity.  Christmas is a wonderful celebration, but without Easter, we might as well not celebrate it.  They go together.  Even in the birth narratives there are images and links to what is to come in the life of the infant Jesus.  The gifts of the wise men – gold, frankincense, and myrrh, are certainly indicative of his death and burial, as well as holiness and his title as King of the Jews.

Every year we hear the “old, old story” as one hymn tells us, and every year, I challenge myself to preach on the current lectionary story of the resurrection.  Mark is especially challenging because the original ending tells us that the women ran off and said nothing to anyone!

This year is my retirement year, so I decided to choose the John 20 passage for the sermon focus.  It’s is my favorite maybe because Mary Magdalene represents all of us at the graveside of loved ones:  puzzled, in pain and grieving.  To top it all off, she arrived at the tomb to find the stone rolled away and jumped to the conclusion that Jesus’ body had been stolen.

Don’t we jump to conclusions, too?  We make assumptions about so many things, especially when it comes to reading the Bible or hearing stories from the Bible that we hear over and over again.  So often we don’t stop to really find something new and interesting that we may have missed before.

What’s new and interesting in the John 20:1-18 passage?  For me, I think it might be the contrast between Mary’s overwhelming grief and her own type of resurrection when she realized that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  Where once she was weeping and accusing the gardener (she thought Jesus was the gardener) of taking away Jesus’ body, she realized when she heard him speak her name that, indeed, this was Jesus!

As much as she wanted to hang onto him, he had a task for her to do – be the messenger!  She was the first witness to the resurrection!  It was her job to spread the word.  Her life changed when she met Jesus but it was transformed when she became the first evangelist.  She was raised to a new purpose in life, in spite of the attitudes toward women during her day.

Where are our resurrection moments in life?

How do they change and transform us so we are witnesses for Christ?

What are our “ta da!” moments?

What If . . .

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Acts 2:2-4 (NRSV)

This coming Sunday is Pentecost when we remember the bold entrance of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.  They had no idea what to expect, and I’m sure they were far from prepared for the scene that unfolded, but then, the Spirit of God doesn’t care about proper entrances or meeting our expectations – thank goodness!

For years I missed the word “violent” when referring to the sound of wind.  I remember being on Cape Cod when Hurricane Bob “whirled” through.  We had boarded up the house and sat with the radio on (since there was no electricity).  My friend’s dogs were quite anxious and agitated and panted through the whole event.  In the end, the hurricane force, violent winds, hadn’t damaged our neighborhood as much as it had other places.

The church I was serving had not been damaged, but the effects of “Bob” were much more visible since the hurricane had traveled up the Cape Cod Canal.  I remember the sound.  The wind was so strong that it shook the house, brought down trees – actually uprooting some – and it left some destruction in its wake.  Fortunately, no lives were lost because, for the most part, people paid attention to the weather people who kept informing us about how to deal with a hurricane and to be sure we were prepared.

At one point, when the eye of the hurricane was overhead, we stepped outside.  The sky was an eerie yellow color, and it was so calm that we could have heard a pin drop.  When the back end of the hurricane came through, the winds were even stronger.  We were thankful that we only lost power for a short amount of time, and it gave me the opportunity to travel to the church to see how things were there.

Because we didn’t have electricity in the entire area, we ended up getting the word out that people could come to the church where we would pool our food and grill whatever people wanted to bring.  The church’s kitchen had a gas stove, and several people brought their gas grills.  One woman brought everything she had from her freezer because it had thawed, so we gathered as church and community to share a meal by candlelight in the basement of the church.  Community was built, and laughter filled the room.

I wonder.  What if the hurricane had not come through.  Would we have found the same connection somewhere along the way?  Or did the “negative” of the hurricane open doors for people to share and laugh and eat and enjoy together?  It seems to me that the latter is what happened.

What if the disciples hadn’t trusted what Jesus asked them to do?  The church wouldn’t exist today.  In spite of all the negatives in the news and from folks who see organized religion as an outdated institution that has little to offer, “Church” really boils down to the people.  The Spirit is at work in our churches – at least a fair number of them.  The Spirit TRIES to be at work in others.

What if – what if we really embraced this Sunday’s message that the Church – that means all of us – can really share the powerful message in the world.  What if the rush of a violent wind were to sweep through our churches this Sunday and send us spilling into the streets, anxious to go home, to work, to our families, to our friends, to our other organizations and really live out our faith in the world?  What if we really believed that the Spirit would open doors for us to connect together and with others as we seek to be faithful in our walk with Jesus, the Christ?

What if we trusted Jesus’ instructions and teachings so that we can truly BE the church in the world?  What if we stopped being afraid of sharing our faith?  What if we allowed ourselves to be “blown away” by the Spirit?

What if?

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