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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Ascension 06/02/2011

“Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or the periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”  I guess those who were looking for the rapture to take place a couple of weeks ago failed to read those verses, thus becoming the latest group to be caught gazing into heaven.  I can’t help but wonder about those who find it a productive use of their time to try and figure out when these things are going to happen, but such people always seem to be around despite the fact that rather than spending time trying to figure out the times or the periods, Jesus has made the call to be his witnesses quite clear.  Those present at the Ascension were the first ones to be reminded of this call to mission, but the reminder still needs to be issued as the list of those gazing into heaven continues to grow which means they aren’t about the work of being witnesses.

I think in the years we’ve had an Ascension Day service I have always focused on the missionary aspect of the text from Acts that is always the first reading today and it is an important focus.  There is another dimension of this day though, one that comes out more clearly in the Psalm, one that is more about the sovereignty of God.

Psalm 93 is classified as an enthronement psalm, one that celebrates God’s indisputable kingship over all creation.  “The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.  He has established the world; it shall never be moved.”  On Ascension Day we link Jesus to that kingship of God as he disappears in the cloud to be seated at the right hand of the Father as we say in the creed. 

I don’t know about you, but the combination of the Ascension image along with the words of the creed creates quite a clear and literal picture for me, a picture of that white haired, white bearded God, the Ancient of Days, seated on a majestic throne with Jesus right there by his side as they keep watch over the world.  I’m quite aware that  my image of this is flawed, that “seated at the right hand of God” is not a phrase that we are supposed to understand literally, but if it helps to bring a sense of comfort, if it adds to the sense that “God’s in his heaven and all is right with the world,” so be it; I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

That’s where it goes for me, and for me the words of Psalm 93 add to that sense of God being in control; it’s comforting.  But I can’t help but be aware that for many people in Japan and for people in this country who live along the Mississippi and some of the other rivers, the flood imagery in this psalm probably leads them in different directions.  “The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.”  Those people who have experienced flooding firsthand know that voice all too well, and they know its roaring, and it has nothing to do with a sense of comfort. 

In the wake of devastation, it has to be hard to utter the next verse, “More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord!”  The intent of the psalmist is to announce that as powerful as those waters are, the Lord is more powerful.  It’s a psalm of orientation, a psalm for when things are the way they are supposed to be, when God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world.  In the midst of disorientation caused by the flood though, the move to that word of praise might not be very easy to make.

The sovereignty of God, the celebration of which is part of Ascension Day is not to be trifled with.  Comfort that comes from knowledge of the all powerful God keeping watch over us is part of that sovereignty.  But acknowledgment that God’s ways are not always our ways and that God can act in powerful and devastating ways that we don’t understand is also part of it.

The most recent natural disasters in the news have been the tornadoes that have ripped through parts of the Midwest.  They’ve caused some of us to wonder, is there more of this stuff happening or do we just hear and see more about it; it’s probably a combination of the two.  What is always amazing when these things happen is that there are people in the middle of it who are able, in some fashion, to bring themselves to utter that next line of the psalm.  There are those who witness the devastation but who won’t allow it to shatter their faith that the Lord is more majestic than the thunders of mighty water, more majestic than the waves of the sea, more majestic than the force of a tornado. 

It’s a remarkable witness and maybe they have to use the words of some other less optimistic psalms before they get to these words, but for them you could say that God is not enthroned and robed in majesty in a distant heaven fifty billion light years away, but instead is nearer at hand, enthroned in their heart.  For them, the love of God is real and will not be defeated, so they act out of that love, in effect becoming the face and the hands of Jesus for those who can’t utter the next line of the psalm.  At the same time they see the face of Jesus in those who are in need. 

Others of us do what we can with our financial gifts to help respond to these situations which is also an act of faith in the power of God’s love, but I think it’s those in the middle of it, those who have personally experienced loss who really come to understand and witness to the sovereignty of God.  While that sovereignty can be revealed in great acts of power, it is also revealed in acts of sacrifice, in acts of love.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, it didn’t end his mission on earth.  When God became flesh in Jesus it demonstrated God’s commitment to this world.  Following the ascension, that commitment is the same.  It does become a more human enterprise though with the command to be Jesus’ witnesses.  It becomes our human calling, but it is spiritual as well, as it is the power of the Holy Spirit that enables things.  “John baptized with water,” Jesus says, “but you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  That’s the story that we anticipate in another ten days.

It’s important to remember that presence and power of the Spirit.  It certainly is easy to understand and relate to the disciples’ apprehension knowing that Jesus wouldn’t be with them in the same way anymore.  Just as they were afraid at the time of Jesus’ death, thinking that they were all alone and not sure what was going to happen, the same kind of fear was probably resurfacing at the time of the Ascension.  Even after the resurrection and having the risen Christ with them for 40 days, it was apparently still difficult for them to understand the kind of kingdom Jesus was talking about.  What they were pretty sure of though, was that whatever it was that Jesus was talking about and whatever it was that that they were supposed to do, they couldn’t do it themselves. 

They couldn’t do it by themselves, especially when the mission was to be witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”  They couldn’t do it themselves, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, they could…and they did.  They did things that no one would have thought possible.  They were about the mission.

Ascension Day isn’t about gazing into heaven.  It’s about the sovereignty of God, sovereignty that hopefully is a source of comfort; but it is also about the mission to witness.  It’s not easy, it’s not an easy mission; but with Jesus enthroned in our hearts, the same Spirit that guided the first disciples will continue to guide us.

Rev. Warren Geier
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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