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A Good-bye Topping All Others

Sermons on the Gospel Readings
Series II, Cycle C
Those bidding good-bye are around us all of our lives. Sometimes there are almost unbearable feelings and other times merely a shrug of the shoulders. We may sense terrible lostness. Occasionally, it may be a matter of saying under our breaths that it is good riddance. Perhaps most of us have been there and done all of that.

In the case of our dear Lord's ascension, we discover quickly that this is not a usual parting which is common to our experience. There is something very different here! We weren't there, of course, but it is a crucial part of the Lord's progression away from his followers to be with his Father.

Some professing Christians make very little out of this miraculous event. Some duly note it in the liturgical calendar and rather tip their hats. Still others underline it and emphasize it as an integral and necessary component to the gospel story. Fortunately, the latter has become a more prevalent view among many clergy.

We are called to look into this marvelous matter and make it come to life. We want, as nearly as possible, a complete story don't we? Now, our enthusiasm picks up and we look forward to more.

There was summarization to show fulfillment. He was brief -- even terse -- as he spoke of the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms. Why should there be any dubious thoughts about his ministry? There it is for all to witness, especially his closest followers. From a rich background of his people everything he has done and said should be obvious. If one were to look carefully and with an open mind, there would not be much in the way of surprise. He called upon and commented about the law, prophets, and psalms. It is so hard for some to understand and accept the fact that his teaching is frequently reiteration.

If we could just come to terms in a positive way with our Lord's place in salvation history, how much more content some really good people would be! While Jesus Christ is the focus for us, that doesn't mean he came to us centuries ago separate and apart from other bright lights. Lofty thoughts and feelings are found throughout the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures). To believe and practice the New Testament is to acknowledge its dependency on what had gone on before. The entire and complete fabric is magnificent. The slighting of Moses, prophets, and psalms most certainly diminishes our needed understanding of our costly redemption.

It is crucial that we take note of "everything written about me." Otherwise, we can fall into the trap of subtlety separating the two testaments. The New Testament is the primary statement of fulfillment but it gains power and, to some extent, even prestige by carefully using the Hebrew Scriptures. Something new for Jesus invariably means some connection to those beacons who have come before him and who are also historical figures. While our faith has mystery, it likewise has some teachings so transparent we have to labor to misunderstand! Praises be to the living God for the light -- often abundant -- he grants to us.

There is no wasted space in these closing remarks. He reminds us that he has already spoken about such things. The foundation has been laid and it is time for him to go. On his Father's great board of historical happenings and movements, the schedule says it is just right for him to move into the heavenly realm. His birth, ministry, death, and resurrection are all there for them to see. The often-quoted phrase, "the time has come," indeed has come! The clinging to him no longer fills any purpose. The Holy Spirit will handle all their needs. The period of blissful and loving power is not gone, it merely begins to take on another form that will benefit all the world. Dejection is not at all appropriate. Thanksgiving is in order.

There is highlighting of his crucifixion and resurrection. Isn't it truly amazing how these two fit together in such a way that they are interlocked in one revelation of truth? While you and I separate them as two distinctly different incidents, they are one and the same powerful message. In the past, many Protestants have said Roman Catholics made entirely too much of the crucifixion and too little of the resurrection. Yes, and Roman Catholics maintained many Protestants made too much of the resurrection and mainly ignored the crucifixion. From ecumenical observations that appears to have changed for the good!

The Messiah is "to suffer" (crucifixion) and "to rise from the dead" (resurrection). As he prepares to ascend, our Lord does not deal with them by dividing the events. To have one is to have the other. Aren't we blessed and, in a way, relieved by this? As we reflect, how else can we have the doctrine and practical power to live out our faith? We would assuredly hate to attempt to live by the teachings of a dead Messiah. Why not live by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, or some great philosopher? While we may be tempted to live in the basking light of him arising from the dead, how can we defend a salvation devoid of supreme sacrifice? Again, we detect it is not either/or but both/and.

Some would call it a trite reminder, but, it is nevertheless true the two provide us with the core belief absolutely necessary to the legitimacy of the Christian religion. Diminish one or the other and be prepared to deal with a religion weakened, weary, and worrisome. Who can defend a diminished doctrine devoid of earthly and heavenly power? There is a supernatural characteristic to our faith, which is simply a nonnegotiable. Much to the chagrin of some well-meaning people, they learn that the way to eternal life is found only in the twin towers of which we are speaking. Experience and history point out to you and me that the need to transcend orthodox belief can be very dangerous!

In the Christian context to love one another and to do unto others what we would have them do unto us is an ethical dilemma, unless we have accepted both cross and the crown. In reality to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves is a natural fruition of the two. The ideal of pre-Christian teaching becomes reality with the power the two give us. Are we seeking to be too theological for our Lord's sheep and lambs? Not if we are totally serious about living a victorious Christian life! So, we are gently but sometimes firmly summoned to believe what our precious Master tells us to believe. Basic doctrine always does make a big difference in the way we go about being disciples of Christ.

There was proclamation of repentance and forgiveness of sins to go in his name to all nations, but it was to begin from Jerusalem. The Gentiles were to have full access, but it was to begin from the holy city of Jerusalem. In a way, these words helped us to stay honest. It was not to begin at Rome, Constantinople, New York City, or Nashville, Tennessee! At first, our dear Lord came to his own people. He ministered mostly to them. Paul, Peter, John, and others would take it eventually to every part of the world. Is it any wonder that sometimes our Jewish friends look at us in disbelief? Just maybe they are trying to convey to us that we have forgotten our roots. Yes, it behooves us to read the holy scriptures carefully.

Please note that there is no question about our having sins. We deal with them by repenting and receiving forgiveness. This revelation unquestionably does away with those who tell us there isn't such a thing as sins and why don't we just seek better adjustment and accommodation to our environment? Well, yes, such a frame of mind and behavior is all about us. Some of our best and brightest people do some of the best and brightest misleading! But let us be patient and compassionate. We are obligated, at least, for a time to hear what they have to say. The only perfection you and I can claim is most certainly found in our willingness to repent and receive forgiveness. There is cause to pause and give thanks.

Deeply ingrained in the fall of humankind is the penetrating reality that we are not what we were originally intended to be. However we tell the story or create the narrative, the fact of our being much less than our Creator intended is omnipresent. In his undying love, Christ preaches and teaches this to all of us. He gives us a peek at what we are intended by his healing, especially spiritual restoration. He provides a way out of our hopelessness and helplessness by the graces of repenting of our sins and receiving his forgiveness. By extension we are moved into human interaction and apply these graces. To move away from our escape hatch is to delay the essential and perhaps to push us to the edge of hell.

Those in the first century and in the twenty-first century, plus all in between, are validators. As we look at ourselves and observe others in spiritually sensitized ways, our plight is ever with us. But let us not be downcast; after all, our glorious and satisfying getaway is also with us. Thus, sayeth the Lord! Knowing and thoroughly believing this ought to make us humble, sincere, and confident in the Lord. Daily confession of our sins of omission and commission is nothing more than good common Christian sense. A warm heart and willing spirit that is open to granting forgiveness to our comrades is nothing more than a reasonable expectation. The long-suffering Christ paid the price and continues to pay it from his heavenly throne.

There was confirmation that we were witnesses. We are led through his concise statement and then taken as far as Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, about two miles east of Jerusalem. His Word was spread among them and hopefully heard by most of his disciples. Soon they would receive power from on high. After all was prepared, the ascension occurred. Those who were present at these singular events and one-of-a-kind experiences were privileged in ways we have difficulty describing. Were all of his followers there? Not likely, and probably no chance whatsoever. Some activists might even want to shout the unfairness of it all!

With lifted hands, he blessed them and was carried into heaven. That miracle of the moment is one many of us would like to have attended. That's a healthy response and it should never provoke the slightest twang of envy. Once in a while, we run across people who say that if they had only been there, they would be able to believe. As we search our souls, maybe we discover a hiding part that wants the proof of a miracle before believing. If we could have been eyewitnesses, all doubt would be gone! Who are we trying to deceive? Remember Jesus fulfilled the need of doubting Thomas, but he called those blessed who have not seen but believe. Faith given to us by the grace of God and buttressed by much prayer and serious Bible study carries the day for most of us.

The ascending scene calls forth worship of him and a return to Jerusalem with great joy. So, our Lord puts the finishing touches to his ministry by an ascension which was unparalleled. In innumerable ways artists have tried to capture the momentous occurrence. It's fair to admit accuracy in all details will have to await another day and time. There are no living witnesses among us, but why should there be? They were told, and we as well, that the Holy Spirit would come to fill the bill. You and I are witnesses to that Spirit. Day after day we are reminded gently and at times harshly to be ever growing in the grace of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

After all had taken place, the disciples were found continually in the temple blessing God. It would not be possible for us to measure the intensity of those gatherings. It is not at all necessary for us to attempt to do so. What is necessary is for us to plead with our God this glorious episode be imprinted in us forever. We can appreciate it only with spiritual eyes and ears. But we can do that, so let us not feel slighted CNN or some other news media didn't take us there! All the disciples present on that day must have become incurable optimists. They were sons and daughters of the Father. His Son had been among them. An even more powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit was at hand. It was a day like no other and the Father has not seen the need to repeat it.

We become aware quickly that Jesus places before us a concise statement. It is as though the heavy work is done and only a summarizing reminder is needed. So much is said in so little space. His threefold ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing has been accomplished. His holy sacrifice has been received by the Father and his resplendent resurrection is a matter of record. All are inscribed here below and in heavenly places. The essence of victorious living is in the gift of repentance and forgiveness. An outpouring of the Holy Spirit is only a brief time away. Yes, and with hands so preciously beautiful lifted, he was gone, leaving them with joy -- mostly unspeakable!

Are you and I able to believe wholeheartedly everything that has happened? Are we then able to be radiant witnesses on behalf of Christ and the church? Herein, in these questions and their answers, lies the real conclusion. We are inspired to live out the revelation and pass it on to others. What a remarkably and truly wonderful job we have! It is our primary vocation in this life, whether we are clergy or laity. We are to be held accountable. If there is some fear in that, so be it. It is only a way of communicating the truth found in the holy gospel. There is a clarion call to give thanks and seek to be all we are asked to be by the Christ, no more and no less.
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