Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
So many things happening in this brief passage…so many possible directions for a sermon!
It was just a couple of years ago that much of America (and at least portions of the rest of the world) was watching to see what would happen on the so-called date of “the Rapture” — an apocalyptic prediction by self-appointed prophet Harold Camping that just didn’t quite materialize. (refresh you memory here)
A reminder of Jesus’ words here in vv. 6-7 could have provided a little balance to the harebrained mania that infected too many well-meaning people.
The main point is never looking somewhere else for what it is we’re supposed to be doing as Christ’s followers — we have our “marching orders” already! To summarize the words of Jesus and the angels from Ascension Day:
- The Holy Spirit will come
- You’ll be witnesses
- Don’t stand around cloud-gazing (technically, practicing nephylococcygia)
There you have it! As you read back through this passage, can you name at least one action that we — as the church today — are to be undertaking?
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
Among the many “titles” given to God in the Psalms, here we have one apropos for the theme of the Ascension: “The One Who Rides Upon the Clouds.”
All I can say about that is, “Cool!”
What do you think it means to pray and ask God to, “rise up?” What are some of the ways you can identify that God has “provided for the needy?”
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
The fact that Jesus was coming again was a very present hope, evidently, for the early church. They were hanging on –sometimes by the skin of their teeth– trusting that trouble would last only for a little while and that Jesus would make it all go away when he came back.
We may think them naive, and we may well scoff at the “rapture nuts” like Mr. Camping (see post above) who are dead-set sure they know the day and hour. But, the undeniable testimony of scripture is that there is coming a day when God will, indeed, bring this age to a close and will make everything new. Some day, it will be “the day.”
Peter gives his followers a couple of key admonitions about how to live in the meantime, however long that turns out to be. They’re good words for us –
- Humble yourselves under God’s hand; God will exalt you in due time
- Cast your anxious cares on God; God cares for you
- Discipline yourselves, stay alert; evil can (and will) pounce on you and drag you down before you even know what’s happening
- Resist…you do have a choice, you know!
I did a little “Googling” to see what was out there in terms of information on lions attacking their prey — there are certainly some pretty disturbing images if you want to check them out. However, I did find this brief video which illustrates very well that it IS possible to resist. In other words, even the lion doesn’t always win!
Lion and Prey video here
Thoughts? Reactions? Ideas?
Oh, how long until we can live into the prayer that Jesus prayed for us as he prepared to leave the world? A good question for preacher and parishioners hearing the gospel this week: what will you do to move a little closer to being “one” with another person or group who understands God differently than you do?
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Thursday was the Ascension of Our Lord, an event described in our first lesson from Acts. Today is 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. It is 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, Alabama in the 1950s:
“Most of the children in my neighborhood are called home for suppers by their mothers. They open the backdoors; wipe their hands on their aprons and yell, “Willie!” or “Joe!” or “Ray!” Either that or they use a bell, bolted to the doorframe 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.” (Dennis Covington, SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN, 1995)
“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 God called 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)
That’s the basic answer to the first question, why did Christ come. Everything Jesus did – his teaching, his preaching, his healings, his interactions with common folk and religious authorities and political powers, his suffering and death, his resurrection and ascension – all were a part of God calling to us, reaching out to us with love. But that answer leads to our second question: Now that Christ is gone, what are we to do? Why have we been called?
My friend Mark Scott is, like me, the Lutheran pastor of an Episcopal congregation. His is 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 of why we have 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 witness, to tall others about that love. We here at the episcopal Church of the Messiah are called to witness to that love in Murphy, and in Cherokee County, and in the state of North Carolina, why even in Georgia and throughout the United States, and yes, into the whole world. Just as there are no limits to God’s love, there are no limits to our opportunities to share that love with others
My young friend of mine had a baby 17 months ago. He has had a tough go of it lately, including heart surgery. Recently his mother shared that for every night of his 17 months on earth he has been put to bed by his parents with these words, “You are a beloved child of God.” Recently he responded with his first words, saying somewhat quizzically, “child of God?”
Our call is to go out into the world, out where God’s people are, and call out to them using the most important name they will ever hear, reminding them that they are all a “beloved child of God.”
Amen and amen.