Sunday, May 13, 2018

"Waiting for the Power." A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Ascension Sunday.

"The Ascension" Icon by Andrei Rublev (1408)

"Waiting for the Power"

Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11

In churches that follow the liturgical calendar, we’re coming to the end of Eastertide, the season when we focus on celebrating the Resurrection.  The third major festival of the Christian year, the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, comes next Sunday.  Before we get to Pentecost, we celebrate the Ascension, and we hear the part of the story that Luke/Acts places between Easter and Pentecost. 
            One part of the story is that Jesus has ascended to glory with God.  The glory of the risen and ascended Christ is good news-- something to celebrate. But the other themes in the story invite us to look at the Ascension from a very human perspective, the disciples’ point of view, which is where we stand.   
            Up until now, Jesus has been the chief actor in the gospel drama.  From his birth to his death, it’s Jesus who keeps the story moving.  In the forty days following the resurrection, the risen Jesus appeared to his followers a number of times and continued to teach them about the kingdom of God.  
            But they’re still living under Roman occupation. Things are still not right in the world.  So, when Jesus tells his followers to wait in Jerusalem, where they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit, they asked, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom?”
             Jesus answers, “It isn’t for you to know these things. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” Then they see Jesus lifted up and out of their sight.  
             
            Now what?  What are Jesus’ followers supposed to do?       
            Sometimes, do you want to just shout, “How long, Lord?”  “Is this the time you’re going to make things right in the world?  We want to know what the plan is. We want to know now.
            Lord, is this the time?
            Hear what Jesus says: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”   
            Christ’s charge to them comes with a promise: “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit...  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.”
            Luke tells us that the disciples worshipped the risen and ascended Christ.  They returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
            In the verses following the passage we read in Acts, Luke tells how the disciples returned to Jerusalem and went to the upper room where they were staying, where they and certain women were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.  On the day of Pentecost, disciples were gathered together in one place when the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them from on high. 

            The first disciples were called to wait during times of transition--with trust and hope…with eagerness and expectancy.
            When the first disciples couldn’t see where the future would lead them, when they couldn’t see where the future would lead them, they remained focused on the drama of God’s salvation story, and worshipped God with great joy.  Their joyful worship as they waited helped to center themselves in God’s gracious, powerful promises

            As the first disciples were called to wait with trust and hope and to live with eagerness and expectancy, so are we.  We are witnesses.
In our words and in our lives, we are witnesses of God’s love. 

            In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. launched the Poor People’s Campaign. After he was assassinated, thousands of broken-hearted Americans marched from the neglected shadows of the nation and gathered in Washington, D.C. as a “freedom church of the poor.” They erected “Resurrection City,” their encampment on the National Mall, to demand that their government address bitter poverty in the wealthiest nation in the world. 
            They were there to confront fundamental questions about America’s moral and Constitutional vision for all of its people, regardless of their wealth, race, gender, or national origin. “They demanded attention to the hungry children and inadequate schools from Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta to the devastated inner cities across America.”  They made moral witness against America’s war in Vietnam, and tried hard to be heard as they carried their testimony forward into public life….”[1]

            Fifty years later, “The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival” is calling our nation to see the predicaments of the most vulnerable among us.  We turn to America’s history and to the realities of our own time and seek to redeem a democratic promise enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. When thousands of people gather tomorrow in Washington, D.C. and 30-some state capitols around the country, they hope to remind our nation what values we hold dear and to make a new moral witness.

            Our faith teaches us that all persons are made in the image of God and are beloved children of God. So, as people of faith, the day-to-day struggles of the poor and dispossessed need to matter to us.  When we hear the voices of “peoples long silenced,” we become more aware of how many people are hurt by systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy. More than 40 million Americans subsist below the poverty line. Nearly half of our population cannot afford a $400 emergency. The devastation cuts across race, gender, age, and geography.[2]
            The Monday rallies around the country during the forty days are meant to hear the voices of people who are directly impacted by poverty, to focus on their stories and magnify them. The clergy and various other activists will be there to stand with poor and marginalized people, in solidarity, and to give witness that their lives matter, to draw attention to their needs, and to call our nation to a moral revival.

            Do we believe God can use us to transform the world?   Do we believe that we can do all things, through Christ, who strengthens us?      How many of us want to believe these things?       
            I believe God has the power to work miracles, and that God wants to use us to change people’s lives.
                           
            As Jim Wallis has pointed out, the biblical prophets always begin in judgment, in a social critique of the status quo, but they end in hope—that these realities can and will be changed. 
            The Civil Rights movement in the United States grew out of the African-American church… and then others joined in—people who chose to hope in a society in which there is justice for all. We’re still waiting and hoping for the fulfillment of that dream. 
           
            We are called.  Christ has given us a Great Commission. He says, “You shall be my witnesses.” We have Christ’s promise:  You will receive power
             
            Like the first disciples, we have the promises of God to cling to, even in times of sorrow and anxiety.   These promises are ours, even at times when it seems that Christ has vanished.

            So, let us cling to God’s promises and rejoice in them. There will be accomplishments and setbacks, joys and sorrows. In the midst of it, we can trust that God is with us, comforting, celebrating with us, accompanying and strengthening us, even when we can’t see it. We can give thanks that God is preparing us to live with less fear and more generosity, preparing us to look out for the rights of others, and to work for a more merciful and just world.
            Thanks be to God!
           
           
Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
May 13, 2018