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SERMON FOR THIS WEEK​
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Image by Peter  Sleeman-Barker

Ascension Sunday
Sunday 12th May 2024

He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?...” 

( Acts 1:9-10 )

Sermon for Ascension Sunday,12th May 2024

7th Sunday of Easter

 

By Rev Petra Elsmore

 

Readings

Acts 1.15–17, 21–end †

 

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people) and said,

 16 Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus-

 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.

 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,

 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us-one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.

 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.

 24 Then they prayed and said, Lord, you know everyones heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen

 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.

 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

 

 Gospel Reading

 

John 17.6–19

 

Jesus prays for his disciples

6 ‘I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

13 ‘I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

 

Sermon

 

Today we celebrate the Ascension Sunday, the end of Easter Season, on Thursday it was Ascension Day, and next Sunday we will celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.

 

We all have some kind of experience of a “time between,” when something significant comes to an end and we anticipate what is to come. A new job or a new school, selling a house and waiting for the contract to arrange and for the sale to go through and we anticipate the move and a new beginning. Or an experience where we are already moving towards something new, we know what is ahead but still waiting to get properly started.

 

Ascension can feel just like that. The interim time, the time between.

 

In the book of Acts, chapter 1, verses 9 and 10 we read:

 

he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?...” 

 

Have you been lucky enough to see the Northern Lights on Friday night? I have unfortunately missed them myself, but I’ve heard that people stopped to get out of their cars to observe them and that it was a spectacular sight. The photographs that you can see on the community Facebook page are amazing. When I think of the disciples in this passage, as they observe Jesus being taken up to the heaven, ascending into the glory, to be seated at the right hand of God, the Father, I cannot help to think, how fitting that so close to the day of Ascension, so many people were experiencing this spectacular event. Perhaps in seeing the Northern lights, one can think of having just a glimpse of the glory that the disciples have seen themselves.

 

So what did the disciples felt, as they were standing there? What went through their minds? The memory of all the different things they’ve experienced together with Jesus? Feeling of awe, witnessing yet another miracle? And we know that during the few years they spent with Jesus, they had witnessed plenty of them. Perhaps they felt apprehension of the unknown.

 

As we read these verses, we can feel that this was a momentous event. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?...” And so what the disciples did was that they returned to the upper room where they were staying in Jerusalem and they all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. They prayed. And as we have heard today, they have chosen a new disciple. Jesus’s ascension into heaven was not an end for them, rather it was a new beginning.

 

The Ascension is one of those events in the Bible, where we wonder, how did this happened and what happened, how was it possible? And it’s one of the events which we cannot explain with our scientific hat on.  Rather we look at it through the lenses of faith. It fits into the bigger picture of God’s plan for his creation, for his people, for ourselves. It fits into the purpose that he is working out through Jesus.

 

If Jesus had remained in a resurrected state, remaining with his disciples, he could only be Lord and Messiah for a handful of people, those who lived closed to him. The fact that Jesus has ascended to heaven is an assurance that Jesus is now present for everyone. And with that comes our calling and our challenge.

 

In the Gospel reading, in that beautiful prayer that Jesus has prayed for his disciples, he said: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one (verse 15) and also “as you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (verse 18).

 

The disciples were looking upwards, seeing Jesus being exalted into the heaven ….. But they had not stayed long…. They got on with what they were asked to do….and soon enough they begin to form a new community. A community based on what Jesus taught. 


In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonnhoeffer described what it means to be a community of faith. He wrote, “A truth, a doctrine, or a religion need no space for themselves. They are disembodied entities. But the incarnate Christ needs not only ears or hearts, but lively people who will follow him.”

 

Maybe the most unbelievable thing about the Ascension is that the disciples didn’t simply return to their old jobs and homes and routines after Jesus was lifted into heaven. It would have been easy to get back to their old lives, to stay in their comfort zone. Instead, they took a chance to embrace their future as Jesus asked for them and so they gathered together, prayed and waiting for the Holy Spirit, ready for whatever was to come.

 

What is to come for us? We need constantly asking ourselves, personally and as a church. What Jesus asks of us? What can we offer, what can we do? How do we step out of our comfort zone.

 

And we need to remember that as we follow Jesus, we are not going to be alone. In the passage from Acts, even as Jesus ascends into heaven, he promises Pentecost: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” an event Jesus promises will happen “not many days from now,” after which “you will be my witnesses...to the ends of the earth.” Our mission is to receive the Spirit and go into the world proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand, that God’s great Jubilee has begun! 

 

Our task is to take the love of God into the world, through each of our encounters, by caring for and supporting one another. Our task is also to ask if there is something new for us to do as a church. In a few weeks’ time we will run a course called Living your Gifts. In an essence, it is a discipleship course which recognises that we are meant to live our faith within a community. As we explore our faith together, we can seek to find ways how we, as a church, can put to use our gifts and talents and through doing so, how we can respond to God’s calling upon our lives.

 

 

May the ascension of Jesus fill us with hope and inspire us to live lives of faith, hope, and love. May the power of the Holy Spirit empower us to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ.

 

Amen.

FROM PREVIOUS WEEKS

May 2024

Sunday 5th May

ROGATION SUNDAY

By Peter Evans

April 2024

Sunday 7th April

EASTER 2

By David Heffer

Sunday 21st April

EASTER 4

By Richard Webster

Sunday 7th April

EASTER 2

By Peter Evans

Sunday 28th April

EASTER 5

By Rev Janet Bayly

Sunday 14th April

EASTER 3

By Rev Petra Elsmore

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