7th Sunday of Easter -Ascension

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First Sunday After The Epiphany, Year B January 8, 2012 First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B Mark 1:4-11
Sermon on Joy, Epiphany, 2012 January 6, 2012 Epiphany Matthew 2:1-12


7th Sunday of Easter -Ascension

Sermon Date:June 5, 2011

Scripture: Acts 1:6-14; I Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Liturgy Calendar: Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A

Every Sunday when we affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed,  we tell one another  that Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  The story of the ascension tells us that Jesus has joined God once again beyond our understanding of time and space.

The ascension story also assures us that we, too, will join God when we die and enter into eternity.

But what does this even have to do with our lives here and now? 

Everything!  Because we are in this story!  We are the disciples.  Like the disciples in the story, we have been left behind, so to speak.

God has lifted Jesus up into heaven and we no longer have the luxury of being with him.  Now after forty days of being with them in his resurrection body, God has taken Jesus away from  the first disciples. 

But as we heard today, before God does this mighty act, Jesus has two very important things to say  to the early disciples as well as to us. 

First—he tells the disciples that they will receive power from the Holy Spirit.  Jesus will be able to continue to communicate with us, his disciples, through the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can  continue to experience his presence in our lives and hear him speak to us.

Second, the mission  of the disciples is to go out and to witness to the ends of the earth. Our mission is the same.  As disciples, we are also to witness to God’s love for us through Jesus, starting at home and reaching as far out as we dare. 

So what did the early disciples do after hearing this message and witnessing the ascension?

The scripture tells us that they returned to Jerusalem—and they didn’t split up into little groups but they went to the upper room together. 

While they waited to receive the Holy Spirit, they constantly devoted themselves to prayer. 

I can’t stress enough to you the importance of this one line. 

The  practice of prayer opens us up to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

When we devote ourselves to the discipline of prayer, we throw open the windows in our stuffy souls so that the wind of the Holy Spirit can blow through our lives. 

Letting the Holy Spirit into our lives through prayer is of the utmost importance to us today, just as it was for the disciples, for two reasons. 

Take a look at this cross.  When  we place ourselves  right here in the center when we are praying, we are opening our hearts to Jesus, who knows all of our joys and our sorrows. 

Prayer at the center of the cross opens us up to the Holy Spirit and gives God the opportunity to lift us up into God’s presence.

Imagine that on this cross, prayer carries us along the vertical part of the cross as God lifts us into God’s presence through prayer. 

Prayer connects us with the divine.

And when we practice prayer at the center of the cross on a regular basis, we find that we become more present to God lifting us up in even the most mundane details of our lives. 

Those of you who are on Face Book may have had the pleasure of seeing  a video about Port Royal this week.

Laura Long made this video while she was home.  In her description of the video, she says that she wants to depict how the town, her home and the citizens of Port Royal have inspired her to be the person she is today.

As the video begins, familiar scenes stream across the screen—fields, the buildings of Port Royal, including St Peter’s—and then as it goes on, we see breathtakingly beautiful  scenes of the Long’s yard.  At one point, a girl is swinging, and then the camera carries the viewer up into the treetops and into the sky beyond.

I have to confess that as I watched this video, I could just feel God reaching down and carrying me straight into heaven—I could feel the joy of eternal life just pouring into me—just from watching a video about a place that I love, where so many of the details of my life reside.  I felt lifted up. 

Through prayer, we can know God and be lifted into God’s presence in any number of ways in our lives

Seeing a proud father lift his baby high into the air, as the baby smiles and laughs is a hint here and now of eternal life.

When we celebrate the Eucharist, and I lift the bread and wine on behalf of us all, as we glorify God, a pathway to eternal life opens up in this space here and now. 

Someone in this congregation told me about having found a thank you note that someone had written to her a while back—how much this note had meant to her, how she feels uplifted every time she reads the caring and loving words that someone took  the time to write to her—these words on the page continue to  lift her into God’s loving presence. 

Being lifted into God’s loving presence through prayer then gives us the ability to focus on our mission, which is to witness to Jesus by pointing  the way to God by lifting others up, starting at home. 

St Francis once said,  “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”

The way in which we live our lives is the main way we witness to the world. 

And our witness can be one of lifting people up, or tearing them down. 

Tearing people down is so much easier than lifting them up.

What is so appealing about destroying someone else?  We all engage in this behavior from time to time, in both large and small ways—but I guarantee that tearing someone else down leads to the hurt and destruction of a lot more than the other person—in the end, we destroy ourselves with that kind of behavior.   

That’s why we need the discipline of prayer in our lives.

Peter reminds us that we are to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, and that God will restore, support, strengthen, and establish us. 

But what comes first?  Humility under the mighty hand of God.   

When we come to God on a regular basis with true humility here at the center of the cross,   we begin to realize the truth of eternal life, here and now—

And the fact that eternal life has already broken into our broken, messed up lives and into our world is the Good News!

In  the gospel reading today, we find Jesus at prayer, and he prays these words.

“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Jesus longs for us to come to the center of this cross, to be uplifted  in prayer, so that we can go out witness to Jesus Christ, the one who taught us to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves—and coming to the center of the cross  in prayer on a regular ongoing basis is the only way we could even attempt to carry out these two audacious commandments. 

Some of you may remember Led Zeppelin singing the hit song, “Stairway to Heaven.” 

Who knows what Robert Plant thought when he sang these words, but I find in them references to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit, and the hint we get of eternal life when we spend time with God in prayer.

“Can you hear the wind blow?  And did you know that your stairway lies on the whispering wind? “ 

So on this day on which we remember God lifting Jesus up,  spend some time in prayer and  listen to Jesus speak directly to you as the wind of the Holy Spirit whispers through you.

And, as you remember the ascension,

Be uplifted by God. 

Thank God for those around you who have lifted you up through God’s love,  and pray in humility that God will restore you, support you, strengthen you and establish you so that you can lift others up  into God’s presence

And  most of all, today in prayer, thank God for Jesus, our Risen and Ascended Lord, pray that we can glorify God in our lives today, as God lifts us up into eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our stairway to heaven.


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