Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed. Alleluia!]
That has a little different ring to it, doesn’t it. Christ is ascended. As Paul writes in today’s reading from Ephesians, Jesus is now seated at God’s “right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” All things are under His feet! He is the Head of all things, most especially of His Body, which is the Church—you and me. Christ is ascended! This day is definitely one worth celebrating, which is why I moved it to a Sunday. This event took place forty days after Easter. And in case you haven’t been counting the days, that would have been this past Thursday in today’s timeline. But the question remains, why are you here?
On the face of it, it seems like an easy question. We’re here because it’s Sunday. Sunday is the day we’ve set aside for this Jesus stuff, so that’s why we’re here. But is there anything more to it than that? What happens when something more important comes along, like a vacation or a sports game or just the desire to sleep in? Why are you here? What’s going on at this time in this place that keeps you coming back week after week?
It’s not the pastor, I know that. As much as you may think I have it all together, I’ll be the first to tell you: I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m still wet behind the ears. I’m still relatively young. I’ve only been at it for a couple of years. There are pastors that are better preachers, better teachers, more relatable, and more experienced. And besides, in all reality, I’m nothing special. I’m one of you. I can’t save you. I can’t do anything to change your situation in life. I’m an unreliable sinner just like everyone else.
It’s not how we do things around here. As much as things are running pretty smoothly at the moment, there are a lot of churches working much more efficiently than ours. We’re in the middle in a lot of different ways. There are churches bigger than our and smaller than ours. There are churches more traditional than ours and churches more contemporary than ours. Some churches are more liberal, others more fundamentalist. Some more charismatic, some more somber. In many ways, we look a lot like thousands of other churches out there.
So why are you here? What happens at this time and in the place that keeps you coming back week after week? What happens in this church every week, and in so many others like us, is God. We come to worship because God is at work here in ways that He’s not normally at work elsewhere. When you come to church, you know that you’re going to hear God’s Word. You may or may not read the Bible elsewhere, but you know you’ll get it here. When you come to church, you know that you will hear that your sins are forgiven. You may or may not forgive others or receive forgiveness throughout the week, but you know that here God’s forgiveness will always be offered. If we were precise about our language, what happens on Sunday mornings is not simply “worship.” It is the “Divine Service.” God is serving us. He comes to us where we are in this world and gives us the many gifts He has to offer. What happens in church is God breaking down the divide between heaven and earth so that He may be with us and give us what we need. Why are you here? If you and I have eyes to see, what happens week after week is God’s glory put on display and into action for you and me.
The disciples were asked the same question that fortieth day after Jesus’ resurrection. They had followed Him outside of Jerusalem after spending those days learning from Him. He had opened up the scriptures to them—the books of Moses and the Prophets and even the Psalms—to show how they were all about Him. The Old Testament is not a bunch of fairy tales. It’s not myth and legend. This part of the Bible are historical accounts that all point to Jesus. As Christians, there is no other way to read them, because that’s how Jesus read them. And the disciples couldn’t get enough of it. They didn’t know everything. They didn’t understand everything. But they had God’s Word and the promise of His Holy Spirit. And it was enough.
As they were walking with Jesus, they continued to ask questions and He continued to teach them. But the time had come. Jesus lifted up His hands for a final blessing and He was lifted up until a cloud took Him out of their sight. And the disciples? They just stood there, heads thrown back, mouths hanging open, staring into the sky. While they’re dumbstruck, two men in white, probably angels, come alongside them and ask, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand, looking into heaven?” Why are you here? On the face of it, it may seem like an easy question. They were there because they’d been following Jesus. They were hanging out with Him, just like they had for the last several years.
But there’s more to it than that. They were there because they had just been part of something incredible. Even after His death and resurrection, Jesus had taken the time to be with His disciples. He had come to them right where they were. He had spoken to them, taught them, forgiven them, commissioned them. He had broken bread with them—both eating regular meals with them and providing what we call the Lord’s Supper. And now, He had momentarily broken down the divide between heaven and earth. A small portion of God’s glory was visible to the disciples as that cloud as Jesus made His way from this reality to the next. Why were the disciples there? They were there because God’s glory was put on display and into action for them to see.
So where do we go from here? The disciples didn’t really need that question. Jesus had already given them that answer. They were to wait until they had received the Holy Spirit and then they would be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Becauses Jesus had been taken into heaven and was coming back, as the angels reminded them, they had work to do. Jesus had given them a job to complete, a mission to undertake. “Be My witnesses.” Go out from here and spread the Good News. Don’t twiddle your thumbs and hope something happens; go out and make the opportunity! And as you know, that’s exactly what they did. The took the Gospel and spread it as much as they could, which is another reason why you’re here today. You’re here because they were faithful in spreading the Gospel, both geographically—across the world—and chronologically—throughout time.
Do you want the next generation to know Jesus? Do you want your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be able to experience the love of God? Do you want to spend eternity with your descendants who will live a century from now? Then go from here. Continue the work of the disciples. Continue the work of Jesus. Because, believe it or not, the work you’ve been given is the work Jesus started. It’s how Luke begins the book of Acts, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” His earthly life was just the beginning of His work. Now He is still working, but through you and me. Our work is the disciples’ work is Jesus’ work.
Why are you here? Because here you see and experience the glory of God. Where do we go from here? To continue Jesus’ work so that more people would be able to see and experience the glory of God.
Alleluia! Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed. Alleluia!]
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell