MISSION AND ASCENSION (Luke 24: 44-50 and Acts 1:3-14) One of the most troublesome phrases in the creed for me is “he ascended into heaven.” Does it trouble you? It conjures up in my mind bad church art: Jesus in white, standing on a cloud and waving to his disciples who are standing on a mountaintop— or, worse still, a stained-glass window showing a cloud with two feet sticking out of the bottom. What are we to make out of it? Can we make any sense at all of a purported event in which our Lord was bodily carried from sight up and away from earth and apparently into outer space? We have just heard Saint Luke‟s two narratives of the departure of Jesus, one from Bethany (found at the very end of Luke‟s Gospel) and one from the Mount of Olives (found in the first chapter of the Book of Acts). Let us look at them. The ascension of Jesus has something to tell us about mission. In both stories Jesus departs from his disciples, and in some textual versions the departure is described in similar language: he is taken or carried up into heaven. He departs; he is lifted up; he is taken from t hem The point—if we can get away from the spatial metaphor, and I believe we should—is that by God‟s action, Jesus of the earthly ministry, Jesus of the agonizing death on the cross, is no longer to be present in a form that can be perceived by the senses. However the glorified Lord of the Easter appearance is to be conceived, the appearances come to an end. According to Luke, there came a time—he says after forty days— when the special appearances of the Risen Lord came to a close. One era came to a close, and another came into being. That which we call the ascension is the

that Jesus prepared His disciples even if he has a few days remaining on earth. The narratives of the departure at Bethany and at the Mount of Olives point forward to his presence among us. the Gospel writers tell us. It was necessary. Before Jesus ascended he taught the disciples “about the Kingdom of God”. that the earthly ministry of Jesus come to a close in order that his Spirit could be present to humankind everywhere.2 dividing line between the era of Jesus on earth and the era of the Holy Spirit in the church. now informed by his passion and resurrection. It shows that preparation and training are required before one can partake in the kingdom building. making clear to them what to expect and how to best use their time without his earthly presence. That is their point. Jesus‟ love to his disciples which includes this season of preparation. in addition to this rich experience with the living Jesus. Let us look at them more closely. Therefore.” which is the central theme of God‟s mission. I feel Churches today have considered lightly the importance of preparation in mission. He instructs his apostolic successors about the “kingdom of God. I hope I am mistaken. and to recognize or discern its disclosure during the course of their mission. to the presence of his Spirit with us. . The good Lord wanted to highlight the value of preparation and training of God‟s missionaries. he schools them to teach the Kingdom of God. Here we can see. He does not leave them to discover these practical truths on their own. they do not look hack. We cannot ignore that reality. The mission of God should be taken seriously.

Their question was understandable but misguided. they kept their eyes fixed on that point as long as they could. It shows our absolute dependence on Christ for wisdom and understanding. which reveals to us another truth about Mission.3 But despite Jesus‟ instruction they sometimes or oftentimes miss some important points. They didn‟t want to look away. “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” they ask. and again two men in white ask a question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Jesus our Lord. Suddenly. Let us proceed to the second episode of the story. He responded to the disciples‟ question by affirming that only God knew the timing for the fulfillment of God‟s kingdom on earth. Jesus was reminding the disciples of the biblical truth that ultimate sovereignty belongs to God. is not to be found in the graveyard among the dead. The women who came to the tomb looking for the dead body of Jesus. the disciples assumed he was announcing that this time of fulfillment was about to come to pass. As Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God. . how to live in the meantime was their concern. They stood their necks stretched upward. and our mission can only come from the Lord. Jesus had another kind of kingdom in mind. why do you stand looking into heaven?” This reminds me of another scene in Luke. our ministry. Our mission is God‟s mission. Jesus who taught and healed and was crucified and died for us. two men in white address them: “Men of Galilee. This episode reveals to us a basic biblical truth that our knowledge. In Luke‟s story in Acts the disciples are left gaping into the sky. He lives. The timing for the consummation of God‟s kingdom was not for the disciples‟ concern.

This world is to be avoided as much as possible. The ascension proclaims that he is a here-and-now Christ. It is heavenoriented. For some sky-watching Christians. not Negros. He is alive. At least we should give it a try. Much contemporary religion looks for Jesus primarily in the sky. this world is evil and beyond transformation. Jerusalem. in our world and in this place. Don‟t stand looking skyward. He is not coming on a comet or a spaceship. here and now in our midst. The church is a bit of heaven. in the midst of the faithful and with the person in need who accepts a glass of water given in the name of the Lord. but we shouldn‟t stop there. We read Scripture to find Jesus in its pages alone rather than to point to his presence in our midst. not among the dead but the living. this world has little to do with the world above or the world to come. The two worlds are distinct and separate. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why do you stand looking into heaven?” It is the curse of much contemporary religion that it looks for Jesus primarily in the past. Christians are right to avoid the corruption of this world but wrong to deny the possibility of its transformation. but it has . The Bible becomes the locus of Jesus.4 Jesus is not to be found in the sky. He is not down there (in the grave) or back there (in the past) or up there (in space). He is with us. He is with us and among us. becomes the place to meet him. We are right to seek Jesus in the pages of Scripture. Life is to be lived with eyes and hands upraised. Don‟t search among the dusty relics of the past nor among the constellations of the heavens. neither penetrates the other. seated on a cloud or dwelling on an asteroid. a place to which to retreat. For others with their eyes fixed on heaven.

that they left that mountaintop and plunged into the cities. but separate church environment. why do you stand looking into heaven?” Look instead into your unemployed brother‟s eye. and cynical magistrates. These sky-watching Christians find it easy to accept a dog-eat-dog economic environment while living in a warm. The workplace and the church are isolated from one another. is that we will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Look toward the least of these his brethren. each with its own set of rules. They stood up to angry crowds. irate religious leaders. “clothed with power from on high. They were so filled with power that skeptics said they were drunk. and men who had fled the cross had the courage to die for their faith.” We know from reading the Acts of the Apostles that the disciples looked back to earth. The departure of Jesus Christ was really a handoff or “habilin”. “Behold. This brings me to the promise—the second element in Luke‟s stories of the departure of the Lord from his disciples.” His promise. They were clothed with power. Church and politics don‟t mix. uneducated men and women were filled with the power to speak to multitudes. where they taught and healed and proclaimed the good news by word and deed. I find little to agree with here. I send the promise of my Father upon you. .5 no transforming responsibility toward this world. You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. See the malnourished child. It‟s like an employee or worker who has been working in his . loving. We can see the pattern in the story. the Father‟s promise. They heard and accepted the promise and shared it with others. To them and to us he says. . Simple. “Men of Galilee.

because everything is entrusted to him. he commissioned them: “You shall he my witnesses (literally „martyrs‟) in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. so you wont see me around so often. though that is necessary.” The empowerment was not only for Personal growth. “Pare / friend I am going somewhere. The disciples understood that if the work of Jesus were to go on it would be up to them to do it.6 employer‟s business and one day the owner /employer comes to the office and says. eyes glued to the clouds. The departing Christ filled them with power SO that others might know of the Christ and might have life in his name. If we stand frozen on Mount Olivet. They and we are empowered SO that the world may believe in Jesus whom we call Lord and enjoy the abundant life that he gives. and we will never really be clothed with the power of the spirit.” It came as a surprise. The promise is fulfilled as we come down from the mountaintop into Jerusalem. But could he handle it? Could he keep up the things that his employer had begun? Here Jesus is making the handoff to his disciples. though that is important. . It‟s an earthbound mission. It was not only to build up the church. This episode also reveals the truth that the direction of our mission in earthly. I trust you that you can handle things here. into the city where a world in need is to be found. This was the critical moment if the disciples were to fulfill Jesus‟ plan. As the departing Christ promised the disciples spiritual power. we will miss our brothers and sisters in need. but the corporate body of believers. The body of Christ on earth was no longer Jesus physical body.

It has followed Christ into the world. eyes fixed on the heavens. Taft Ave. we all can use a mountaintop experience from time to time. In Negros alone. the struggle to for the democratization of land ownership continues. transaction. It is Catholic as well as Protestant. The power of that experience soon dissipates if we do not turn again to the world for which he died. It has little to proclaim to either management or labor in the present crisis. amusement and consumption. But I don‟t have to go to Manila to show that we live in a land of contrast and disparity. It is a hive of activity. It seeks him among . It is a city of contrasts. But there is another Christianity in the Philippines as well. But we can't stay there. and losing their hopes and dignity Many Christians in the Negros (and elsewhere. It has joined the dispossessed. the emerging new city center. But only a few meters away the mushrooming shanties of many thousands struggling to survive. further north the Robinson mega malls and SM. corner Vito Cruz you could see Condominiums and high raise buildings. Technology has passed you by. feet planted firmly inside the church. for that matter) proclaim a Christianity that has nothing to say to the thousands of unemployed except “Bear your suffering in silence. It is evangelical and sacramental.7 Christians may need to retreat from the world. vast numbers losing their homes. It preaches only a mountaintop religion. Last month I was in Manila.” This brand of religion does not urge the converted to transform a society that plunges hardworking men and women into idleness and despair. It has left Olivet for Jerusalem.

In Guihulngan. We are gathered here this morning to proclaim his ascension. We are here praying. in the spirit of his ascension. . he abides with his church to the end of the ages. to celebrate the truth of his presence among us and to return to the world in his name. “Mercifully give us faith to perceive that. and it dares to presume to criticize the closing of industry and the impoverishment of thousands. seek to transform. Pastor Anog.” And perceiving his presence among us and accepting his promise. empowered by his Spirit. not to condemn. like Pastor Anong. we are called to transform the world. but in the present. leaders of a rural poor farmer organization were arrested almost three wks ago.8 the living and the dying. Its successes are modest. according to his promise. but the laity and clergy involved in the several Monongahela Valley ministries are trying to follow Christ into the world. It seeks to promote dialogue between management and labor. to transform systems and structures as well as individuals. Your experience and my experience may not he the same as that of Christians in Guihulngan. but the calling is the same for Christians everywhere: to follow Christ into his world. looking not back to the tomb or up into the sky but into the eyes of our brothers and sisters for whom he died. It deserves the name evangelical. They do not seek him among the dead or in the clouds but in the world. One of the leaders is a Pastor of a small indigenous Christian church. We are here with his promise ringing in our ears. Christians. not the past.

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