I worked many part-time jobs in my early adult life. I worked as a bus boy, bag boy, lifeguard, store clerk, and server. By the time I graduated seminary I was use to the sound of the time clock stamp. When you put your card into that machine that is no bigger than an alarm clock but sounds like a two ton press is coming down to stamp your card. It is that ‘kur clunk’ that I was use to. What I wasn’t ready for was the sound of the factory bell. After seminary and getting married I had a could months of down time before we moved to England. My sister was doing an internship with a printing company and she was able to get me a job for a couple of months helping out on the factory floor during the first shift where ever they needed someone to get in the way. It was interesting work and sometimes mind-numbing work, but it was work. During my first week there I remember being a little put back by the factory bell. It dictated what to do and when to do it. When it sounded people started the shift, took their lunch, started their work again, and then went home. There was respect for the bell. Of course there were others who ignored it but mostly people did what they were supposed to do when the bell sounded. I remember my first week there when it went off after lunch and that bell rang I perked up trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. I know some of you know what I am talking about and have heard that bell for many years. That bell dictates a work life for many people and when it rings you get busy.
Today is Ascension Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. Next week we celebrate Pentecost, the birth of the church. But today we say goodbye to Jesus’ earthly visit. For just over 33 years Jesus was here on earth but now after his life, death, and resurrection it is time for him to go and be with his father and to sit at his right hand. It is today that we look up into the sky and squint as Jesus is lifted up to the heavens. But what makes this day special is that it is the factory bell for us Christians. The Ascension of Jesus to sit at the right hand of God is the bell that rings for us, the followers of Jesus, to do the work God is calling us today.
Today we also celebrate those who will be graduating. This is an important time in your life as you transition into adulthood and a life on your own. It is a scary time. It is a fun time. It is a time of transition. No matter what you do things will be changing rapidly over the next couple of months. You will start life in a new school, a new job, a new path, a bunch of new things. Change is happening and when it does you have two choices, anticipate or participate. I hope you heed some advice I received when I was 18, “don’t anticipate, participate.”
We anticipate a lot in life. We look to moments and we plan, and plan, and wonder, and wonder. We anticipate what it will feel like to walk down that isle or stand there to receive that diploma. We wonder what it will be like to hold our new child, or to send that child off to college. But when we think about it too much we sometimes get a picture of what it will be like stuck in our heads. We plan for the moment so much that we miss the moment all together. People plan for a wedding for months and sometimes a year before the 20 minute sermon and 2 hour rehersal is over. That is a lot of planning for a three hour event. But that is human nature to wonder and plan for life’s events. But we cannot get stuck in the anticipation process we have to be ready to participate in that moment too.
Here in the first verses of Acts we get the picture of Jesus talking with his disciples on last time. He is eating a meal with them and gives them the command to hang out in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes to them. Their ears perk up and they ask Jesus “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Most of the disciples were following Jesus because they believed he was the Messiah. One of the things they wanted the Messiah to do was to restore Israel’s kingdom. They were occupied by the Romans and they wanted the Messiah to come and wipe them out so that Israel can rule over them and the whole world if it was God’s will. They were hoping when Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey that it would be the start of the Kingdom of God on earth, but instead they saw Jesus being put to death. Now Jesus is back from the dead and eating a meal with them. He tells them about the Holy Spirit coming and they think, NOW is the time that the Kingdom of Israel will be restored. But instead they watch Jesus go up to heaven.
The disciples anticipated what the Kingdom would be like. They knew Jesus had the right stuff and the dropped their nets, left their families, left the life they knew to follow him around for three years and now they were ready to reap the rewards of this sacrifice. They were ready to sit back and help usher in the Kingdom. They were ready to ride the coat tails of the Resurrected Savior. They were ready for him to set up the kingdom and rule. The only thing they were not ready for was the fact that Jesus wasn’t going to be doing the work.
It is almost a humorous scene in verse 11. The disciples have just watched Jesus vanish behind a cloud and they are all there staring up in the sky. As they stand there staring two men dressed in white robes show up and tell ask them why they are looking up into the sky and Jesus will come back again in the same manner he left. I think it is humorous because you have this group of people simply starring up at the sky, dumbfounded at what Jesus had just done. They had witnessed him walk on water, feed 5000, die and be resurrected and now they are shocked he ascended into heaven. You think after all that nothing would have shocked them.
I also think they stood there dumbfounded because they thought Jesus was going to do the work. They thought the Kingdom was going to be set up, ruled, and watched over by Jesus. They would be his associates but the heavy lifting was all on Jesus. But that isn’t God’s plan. God’s plan was to use the disciples to transform the lives of individuals who would come together as His people to bring the Kingdom of God to this world. In this ascension moment the reality that Jesus’ work on earth was finished and the disciples’ work was just starting hits them like a ton of bricks. They would be receiving power when the Holy Spirit comes to do the work of God in this world. Once again they did not anticipate this reality and they stand there shocked and in awe.
John Wesley in his commentary on this scripture states that the disciples would receive the power to preach and suffer. They would have the ability to speak God’s word to God’s people and to stand up to the powers that be even to the point of suffering for the sake of the Kingdom of God. That is a hard pill to swallow but it is what the disciples were forced to choke down. I am sure that the time in-between this ascension moment and Pentecost there were many questions and anticipation moments.
Finally the disciples will stop anticipating and will begin participating in what God is asking them to do. They will give into God’s call on their lives and use the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the world. The same thing we are asked to do in our lives. The good news is because of the ascension of our Lord, we are not alone because we are tethered to him.
Tethering is a term that is old and new. You tether an animal to a line to restrain it. You tether a boat to the dock or an astronaut to the space shuttle to keep it from floating away. You can also now tether your cell phone to a laptop. When you do that you give the laptop the ability to tap into the internet through the cell phone. Some call it turning your phone into a mobile hotspot. It is something that will cost you more of course but it has its good side too. It allows you to plug into the internet no matter where you are.
The statement “Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God” sounds old to us. Sitting at the right had of someone is an ancient term used to describe one who is seen as honored. That is where we got the phrase, “right hand man” was because those who stood by the right hand of the king were the honored ones, the trusted ones, the ones who serves the kings best interest and does it perfectly. Jesus is that for his Father. He was the one willing to take on the sins of the world and now his earthly ministry is over and his heavenly ministry can begin.
Not only does this new position for Jesus enable him to be seen as honorable but it also allows us to follow him. Jesus went from the lowly position of an innocent man dying on the cross to being seated at the right hand of God. Because of that we are promised that we too can be taken from this lowly existence to a great one as well. Now that Jesus has blazed the trail, we are invited to the throne room of God as well. We can sit in the midst of the Glory and bask in its glow.
As Jesus’ heavenly ministry now begins it means that we can access the power that comes from him. While he was here on earth Jesus was limited to our time and space. His humanity could only have him in one place at one time. But now he is in the eternal presence of God again and can be in all places at all time. As N.T. Wright said, the ascension “means that Jesus I available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him.” We don’t have to travel to the temple to find Jesus. We don’t have to schedule our vacation around his speaking tour. We have access to our Risen Lord anytime and anywhere because of the fact that “he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”
And just in case you need a reminder that we are tethered to this power no matter where we are, we can receive his blood and his body today in this Holy Sacrament. We can feel the presence of God in our midst as we participate in the act of receiving this wonderful gift from God. We are tethered to him and have access to all that he can give. This means that we should not fear the work he is calling us to do. We do not need to be afraid to do the ministry of the Kingdom of God in this place and in this time. As Jesus’ promised in Matthew’s gospel, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We can go into the world without fear, without worry, and without the anxiety that anticipation brings. We can simply go into the world and participate in the calling God wants us to life out. We can go and do the work that the bell of the Ascension is calling us to do.
And all God’s people said…Amen.