“To the Ends of the World” May 21,2023
“ To the Ends of the World”
Acts 1:1-11, Acts 16:16-34
Even though we celebrate today as being ascension Sunday , technically Thursday was the Ascension of our Lord, an event described in our first lesson from Acts. Today is also the bridge between Easter and Pentecost, the end of the story of the earthly ministry of Jesus and a prelude to the coming of the Holy Spirit and the growth of the church. You know, for as many times as I have read this story or preached upon it, There is always one part that causes me to chuckle. So picture, if you will, this group up disciples Jesus has gathered . These are men who have traveled with him for a long time. They have come to know the boundless love of Christ and of his Kingdom. They have witnessed miraculous things: healings, a feeding of the multitudes, and even an occasion when he calmed a storm with only a word that was about to capsize their boat. They had witnessed the terrible treatment from the nation of Israel that led to his death. Likewise, they had witnessed his resurrection and the fact that they were eating a meal with him at this time must have been difficult to process. The Lord had died; they had watched him die, yet here he was giving them instructions about the next steps. Once again vs. 4 reads: . 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” We have no way of knowing what was going through their minds .
This was intense; this was crazy, and there was nothing that could have prepared them for the moment when Jesus ascended into heaven. Of course, they stood with their mouths hanging open looking up into the sky. I mean, wouldn’t you? But the funny part. To me at least, comes at verse 10 which says: “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? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
In other words, they were saying, “Quit your gawking. He’s coming back. He’s coming back the same way he just left. This is not the end. Jesus has told you what comes next. So snap out of it. It is time now to earn your stripes. It is time now, through the power of the spirit, to build the church. It is time now to be witnesses to Christ even to the ends of the world.”
It was Delmer Chilton, my favorite Lutheran pastor, who made this wonderful observation about these disciples and, naturally, about us as well. He tells us that this day, ascension Sunday. is a day to ask ourselves two very important questions: 1) Why did Christ come? 2) Now that Christ has gone, what are we to do? To get at the first question of why Christ came, listen for a moment to the last paragraph of Dennis Covington’s “Salvation on Sand Mountain,” which is partly a story of snake-handing churches and more importantly, a memoir of growing up in Birmingham in the 1950s: “Most of the children in my neighborhood are called home for suppers by their mothers. They open the backdoor; wipe their hands on their aprons and yell, “Willie!” or “Joe!” or “Ray!”
Either that or they use a bell, bolted to the door frame and loud enough to start the dogs barking in backyards all along the street. But I was always called home by my father, and he didn’t do it in the customary way. He walked down the alley all the way to the lake. If I was close, I could hear his shoes on the gravel before he came into sight. If I was far, I would see him across the surface of the water, emerging out of shadows and into the gray light. He would stand with his hands in the pockets of his windbreaker while he looked for me. This is how he got me to come home. He always came to the place where I was before he called my name.”
“He always came to the place where I was before he called my name.” God (in Christ) came to the place where we were before calling our name.
That is the why of Jesus life on earth, he came to call us. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ.” The God of all grace has called each of us, and came to where we were to do it. No loud shouts out the backdoor of heaven, no clanging bells echoing across the water. God came in the humble form of a human being, gently speaking our name to us and calling us home to heaven. As the first two verses of the book of Hebrews says, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days (God) has spoken to us by a Son.” (Hebrews1:1-2a) “God has spoken to us
by a son.
Again, try to imagine how these men must have felt when it appeared That this one who had come back from the dead was actually going to leave them. All the plans they may have had were for nothing And they were faced with the second question: Now that Christ is gone, what are we to do.
I mean, why have we been called? What’s the point? If Jesus did indeed come to where we are to call us home, What are we to do In order to get there?
Well, the Right Reverend Delmer Chilton had a unique answer to that question as well. He writes: “Why have we been called? My friend Mark Scott was for a while, like me, the Lutheran pastor of an Episcopal congregation. His was in Chapin, SC. One day recently on his way home from the church he saw a sign outside a church run thrift shop: JESUS LOVES YOU. DONATIONS ACCEPTED. That’s a good answer to the question “Why have we been called?”
Acts 1:8 says,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
God in Christ came to us in the life of Jesus to call us home, to let us know that we are loved beyond any measure we can imagine. There is nothing we have to do; indeed there is nothing we can do, to earn that love. It is ours. Like the sign says, “Jesus Loves You.” No conditions on that whatsoever. But our donations to the cause will be joyfully accepted. We have been called to be loved, and to be witnesses, to tell others about that love.”
So yes, God comes to us where we are, And it has been this incredibly personal, compassionate, and loving ministry of God in the body of Jesus Christ that has changed the world we live in.
Ours is not a God who browbeats and demands that we live in fear. Jesus shows us this truth by his words, by his actions, and by his demonstrations of love and compassion.
It might be worth noting the last words Christ spoke to his disciples before ascending into heaven. : (vs 8) “And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”
I mentioned last week That we will be talking about the power of the spirit during this time leading into Pentecost, and today is no exception. So ask yourself, how is it possible that the gospel of Christ has been embraced even to the ends of the world? Does Jesus have some sort of appeal or rock star quality that people find irresistible? Or did his teachings put the “fear of God” as they say, into a population that has been taught to be afraid? I would have to say that neither of these his true. Instead, it has simply been the testimony of believers empowered by the spirit who have brought our God to call us where we are. These are testimonies of love, these are testimonies of forgiveness, these are testimonies of the true children of God.
So, in closing I would like to suggest that if you remember anything at all of what I have said today, then please remember this: Jesus loves you. Donations accepted.
Amen end Shalom