Even Before Pentecost: Seeking and Finding Meaning in the Ascension
Ascension Sunday has fallen into obscurity and neglect in many denominations. I’ve posted about this previously, but I am still saddened by the trend.
I am beginning to create a small, at-home worship ritual celebrating the Ascension and based on meditative readings of Acts chapter one and Revelation chapters one and twenty-two.
The Ascension is important because it answers an important question: what happened to Jesus after his resurrection?
The answer matters.
The passage from Acts explains many things. One of them is this: Jesus is a supernatural person who arrived in an extraordinary manner and left in an extraordinary manner. Jesus will return in the same, extraordinary manner in which he left.
Also, Jesus told his disciples to wait before rushing off into “the next great thing.” He told them some things were not for them to know at that moment. Jesus did, however, give them a glimpse of their futures.
Jesus told his disciples they would receive power after the promised Holy Spirit came upon them and into them. Jesus told the disciples they would be his witnesses locally and, eventually, out and into the ends of the earth.
What is interesting is that Jesus did not tell his disciples what they asked him to tell them. Isn’t this the same Jesus who once said “ask, seek, and knock?” He didn’t tell them what they asked, but he did tell them what they needed to know. In the deepest way, he answered the question the disciples didn’t have the insight to ask.
He told them they would do something larger and more expansive than they’d imagined.
The disciples wanted to know if Jesus was ready to liberate Israel from Roman control and restore the nation to its historical independence.
Jesus responded by telling the disciples they would receive power—as opposed to waiting for him to do something in the earth. They would be his witnesses to people who had never heard of him.
In response to the disciples’ questioning of what Jesus would do next, Jesus tells them what they would do next. Then he leaves. He left them to do something bigger than they’d expected. In fact, he left them to do something no one had ever done, something
no one was expecting, and something many people we not ready to accept. He knew they needed supernatural empowerment.
I love this account of Jesus’ final “in person” words to his disciples because he reverses their question while at the same time telling them what they really wanted to know.
They wanted to know this: “what’s next”? That’s the question we often ask after a mountaintop experience.
Jesus’ answer to them—and to us—was, and is, this: 1) Wait to become empowered through God, and 2) After becoming empowered through God, think and act more expansively than you ever have!
Living as an authentic witness of God’s power and presence is the most important thing a Christian can do.
As we leave the details of the time, the place, and the circumstance of our witnessing up to God, we are enabled and prepared to do more than we had imagined. Witnessing means showing and telling what we have experienced in a way to points directly to the goodness of God, not to our own skills, willpower, or abilities. That type of witnessing cannot be done apart from the Holy Spirit’s leading, guidance, and empowerment.
This is the promise and the meaning of the Ascension.
(c) 2014 Deborah Evans
Several Sundays ago, we had a last minute emergency regarding a guest minister and I was asked to preach if the guest was unable to make it. I agreed, and began to think about what I would say to the congregation.
I meditated on what is the most important reminder the church universal needs regarding who we are and why we are here.
I was led to this passage from 2 Timothy 1:12:
“…I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”
Here are the words of a man about to face execution, a man who has been abandoned by his associates and betrayed by those who thought he could rely upon. This man, Paul the apostle, is facing death because of his testimony for and about Jesus Christ.
Paul, a man who was widely regarded as a powerhouse intellectual in his day and time, had been cajoled and laughed at for believing in fairy tales and false truths as he traveled, taught, and preached the gospel. Still, Paul says he is not ashamed because of one fact:
“I know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”
What does this mean?
First, it means that for Paul, Jesus was not a concept, or an idea. Jesus was a person Paul knew, loved, trusted, communed with, was led by, and looked forward to seeing in eternity. Paul says he knew this One In Whom He Believed. How often have you been ashamed of someone you have known, loved, trusted, and found friendship in?
Second, Paul says he knew Jesus was able to guard what Paul entrusted to Jesus. This means Paul knew his earthly life and eternal self were secure because Paul trusted Jesus completely. Why so much trust in the unseen? Paul believed in Jesus because Jesus had kept Paul safe in his earthly life.
How much safety did Paul need? Paul faced stoning, beatings, legal troubles, jailing, nasty church politics, loneliness, constant travels under rough conditions, a mysterious physical ailment, religious controversies, and outright hostile opposition to his message and to his life. At the end of his life, Paul could look back and reflect upon how Jesus had kept him secure and on message through all of these experiences.
Third, Paul says he’s entrusted himself to Jesus “for that day.” “That day” or “in that day” is a phrase that appears throughout the Old and New Testaments, referring to that final re-arranging of reality, the final judgment, or the complete restoration of God’s original plan for humanity.
What Paul is saying here is that he sees himself as an eternal spiritual being that will live somewhere forever. He can’t anticipate everything about that future life, but Paul says that all he’s ever been is safe in Jesus’ care, and even after Paul’s physical body is destroyed, his life will be kept and restored fully in God’s will and on God’s schedule.
I didn’t need to preach this sermon that morning. The guest preacher arrived just in time.
I think Paul’s farewell message is one we can never hear too often: have no shame or silence regarding the greatest gift to humanity---God’s salvation from our failing selves and our failing world. Reflect upon what God has done for you through your fellowship with Jesus Christ. Finally, be the person who is not afraid to share who you are and what you know to be true. Every day, some event or person will challenge you to say or show who you are and why you are here. The answer should always begin with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
(c) 2014 Deborah Evans
More insights from my Lenten reading, this one from pages 44 and 45 of Joan Chittister's Wisdom Distilled From The Daily.
"So, even liking one another is not enough. The truth about Christian community is that we have to be committed to the same eternal things together. What we want to live for and how we intend to live out those values are the central questions of community. Without that understanding, communities fail and marriages dissolve and people leave religious life and nations go to war."
"Another function of community is to enable us to be about something greater than ourselves. It is no small task in a world that tells us" (especially in North America--my words) "constantly that we ourselves are enough to be concerned about and that everything else will take care of itself. Well, that kind of enlightened altruism has not saved us from the destruction of the ozone layer, or the deterioration of the centers of our cities, or massive unemployment even among educated upper-middle class executives, or wars against the innocent."
God, help me to be in and about and for community. Now and always.
" [This is] the revelation of Jesus Christ [His unveiling of the divine mysteries]. God gave it to Him to disclose and make known to His bond servants certain things which must shortly and speedily come to pass a]">[a]in their entirety. And He sent and communicated it through His angel (messenger) to His bond servant John,
2 Who has testified to and vouched for all that he saw [b]">[b]in his visions], the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." --Revelation 1:1. The Amplified Bible
While growing up (I'm a PK), I asked my father if he would ever preach a sermon on the following topic: where is Jesus right now, and what is He doing? He did later (years later) preach a sermon on a topic that begins to answer the question. He preached from the Book of Revelation and described the challenges for the church at Sardis, an ancient city near modern day Turkey.
During this season of Lent, I've been reading and re-reading (silently and aloud) the Book of Revelation. It is in this book that the answer to my childhood question is found. This is a powerful book, with a unique, personal message to each person who cares enough to read it and meditate on it.
The first three chapters of the book describe Jesus' messages of encouragement and correction for several ancient churches. More importantly, we see Jesus as He is now. He holds a place of honor in the Eternal Presence. He is guiding, protecting, encouraging, and correcting His churches. His words given thousands of years ago still have meaning because, for better or worse, human nature hasn't changed much in 2,000 years.
Jesus expresses to each church (and by extension, each believer) that He knows their true situation. Whether it is poverty, arrogance, fear, boldness, steadfast determination, or failure. He is not watching us at a distance through a telescope. He is ever present, and knows exactly what we are dealing with. We never have to begin our prayers with "Lord, look at what these people are doing!" He's right there; He knows.
He tells believers what must be done in order for them to move forward. He is in total control of the circumstances of human life. He is, as John says in the first chapter, The Ruler of The Kings on Earth.
Jesus has a word of compliment and a word of correction for most of these churches---and again, by extension, for each of us. He expresses empathy, explaining in detail how much He understands of their condition. He stands against the heresy that misleads innocent seekers and weak believers. He explains the rewards awaiting those who stick with Him until the end. He warns those who refuse to accept correction, who live by the motto "Do You." He encourages those who are struggling under tough circumstances. Most of all, He promises a clear and valuable, eternal reward for those who worship and love Him.
Revelation may seem an odd book to dive into during Lent, when so many of our lessons and sermons are taught and preached from the Gospels. Still, after the gospels come the teachings and after the teachings come The Revelation of the One We Are Following. He never left us, not really. He walks among His church and His believers. He doesn't always promise escape from pain, but He always promises His presence. He promises that, at the right time, He will wipe away every tear. The end of the story is a glorious one, in which pain and loss will be removed, destroyed, and forgotten---eternally replaced with joy, completion, reunion, and reward.
(c) 2014 Deborah Evans
Often, we are told, in the name of being obedient or “good”, to forgive and forget. What does this really mean, and is it possible to truly forgive and forget?
I suppose that depends upon what you are forgiving and forgetting. If you are forgiving and forgetting someone cutting you off in traffic, or taking the parking place you were going for in a busy lot, maybe you can forgive and forget that.
What happens when we consider something on a larger scale?
You or a family member or close friend becomes the victim of a violent crime.
A doctor misdiagnoses you, and now you face a deeply rooted serious illness.
Your spouse abandons you without reason, and your personal and financial life is devastated.
You are unfairly fired from the job you badly needed.
You are the victim of domestic abuse, or, more accurately, home violence. You leave your home one day with only what you can carry.
Yes, I believe you can work on forgiving the person or persons responsible for these things. But forgetting these things? No, I don’t think so.
When events are major markers in our lives, we don’t really forget them unless something happens to damage our memories or thinking processes.
Just as we don’t forget the high points of life ( graduating from school, a first job, a wedding day, a child’s birth, a grandchild’s birth, that first apartment or house, etc.), we don’t forget the deep injuries because these events shape our lives and often permanently change life’s direction.
Forgiveness does free us, and keeps a single event from destroying other good things life could offer. What about the forgetting?
Well, you might not be able to forget the event, but you can choose to forget how it made you feel. You can forget the sense of being less than, the sense of being unappreciated, the sense of being forgotten and disrespected, the sense of being unwanted and uncared for, the sense of being less valuable than others seem to be.
You can remind yourself on a daily basis: what someone else did is not the defining moment of my life, unless I allow it.
And actually, why should you forget? Someday, you may be able to help someone else by saying: “Yes, it’s possible to overcome _______. I know, because I’ve been there and I’ve done it Let me help you on that path.”
In the back of my mind, there’s also my little suspicion that people who say we should forgive and forget sometimes just want to set us up to be hurt over and over again by someone who doesn’t care about us and doesn’t deserve the right to injure us without limit.
Forgive because forgiving is one of the most healing gifts you can give yourself. You have to do it on purpose and no one can do it for you. You put your own life back on course when you forgive. It’s a reclaiming of your power. Without forgiveness, the injury-maker reshapes your entire life and you shouldn’t give them that right.
In the back of your mind, you know the person who injured you really can’t heal you, so if you want to be healed, why keep your energy pointed in their direction? Get help if you need it, but release the injury-maker and take your life back.
Forget the pain and remember the victory. Grow stronger, share, help others, and widen the circle of your life. That’s true winning.
(c) 2014 Deborah Evans
Spiritual Lessons from the Gym
Early in 2013, I switched gyms and worked with a trainer who helped me put together a program that led to a huge increase in my fitness level throughout the year.
I also spent some time reading exercise and strength training books and articles. I found several principles about working out and exercising that made it easier for me to understand why I needed do to the things I needed to do.
Some of the principles are:
“You must become comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
“You must do what you do not always enjoy doing.”
“You must get enough rest; relax, and reward yourself for accomplishing a major goal.”
“What you eat and drink---food---will determine what you are capable of doing.”
More and more, these principles seemed to also have a spiritual application.
1 Corinthians 9:24, etc., says it this way:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
The good thing about the Christian life is that everyone who wants to win can.
The hard thing about the Christian life is that no one wins without following a training program. The training program has already been set up.
If I do not consume the right “spiritual food” (Scripture, prayer, good fellowship, Sabbath rest, listening to God), I won’t be capable of doing what I am supposed to do. There will be no resources for me to draw on, no reserve of energy waiting to empower me to finish what I’ve begun.
It is OK to say “no” to someone asking me to do just “one more little thing.” I must remain aware enough to know my limits and protect those limits. I am not indispensable and flattery will not trick me into attempting more than I should within any day, week, or month.
I do not usually enjoy apologizing to people I’ve wronged, or extending a hand of reconciliation in a damaged relationship, or trying one more time to forgive the person who has wronged me. But if I don’t do these things, the person and work of the Holy Spirit cannot flow through me as needed, and I will become limited and frustrated and fail to meet my purpose.
How to do I become comfortable with being uncomfortable?
I accept that I must walk by faith, not expecting to fully understand every aspect of everything that happens to me, and trust God to handle my circumstances when I can’t. Over time, my comfort zone will enlarge. If I refuse to experience any discomfort, my comfort zone will stagnate, and possibly shrink, making me less available to do whatever God wants me to do. That’s failure.
The opposite of failure is getting into training and staying there, allowing the lessons of the gym to guide some of my spiritual “strength training.”
(c) 2014 Deborah Evans
This statement, made by Jesus while he was engaged in what some might call a “lively conversation” with religious rulers at the temple in ancient Jerusalem, is one of the most controversial statements he made.
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