Roger's Postings

Friday, June 03, 2011

Acts 1:6-11.                            Witnessing or witnesses??                  5/6/11

                                                Spectators or participants?

(6)  So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" {7} He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. {8} But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." {9} After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. {10} They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. {11} "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

Today we are reminded of Jesus’ Ascension back into heaven after his death and resurrection. He has now completed the work he had come to do, and so that this Good News of what Jesus has done for us through his death and resurrection, may be spread world-wide, he departs. As I

read through this text in preparation for this sermon, there was one thought that particularly struck me: Those first disciples were there on the hillside witnessing this event: their eyes for a long time looking up to where Jesus had gone. They were spectators in the events preceding this and now his ascension. But what had Jesus called them to do before he left them? He said they were to be his witnesses: to tell others the Good News of what Jesus has done for us all. Now that raises an interesting thought for us here today. Are we just here witnessing what God has and is doing in life for us: are we spectators in life and in the Church, or are we being his witnesses? In simple words are we spectators in the Church or witnesses?

Are we like the little boy who raced outside when he heard the roar of a  FA18 jet fly low overhead? But of course he was too slow: the plane had already long gone and all he could hear was the roar in the distance. But then suddenly he heard it approach again, and this time saw it in detail, even though it was a quick glimpse: the shape and its markings, and he even thought he saw the pilot in the cockpit. But in flash it was gone: disappeared into the horizon. The little boy just stood there looking up into sky – amazed, and he just continued staring into the sky, hoping that it would come back: wishing to get another look: hoping to spot it once again. Eventually his mother come out and told him to go and tell his brothers and sisters what he had seen. But he just stood there, gazing into the sky, hoping that he might be able see this mighty machine once again. It was not until evening and the sky grew dark that he finally lowered his eyes and then raced off to tell the family, but they were no longer interested – it was too late.

Now that story is interesting, but the question has to be asked, in so far as our Christian lives are concerned, are we too, spending too much time gazing into the sky, waiting for the power of God to manifest itself and for Christ to return. Are we too concerned only about ourselves, our own life, and our own relationship with God that we have failed to be concerned about being the witnesses that Christ has called us to be, to our fellow human beings, and sadly even to our own children. Thinking, that as long as we keep up our own faith by coming to church occasionally, then that is good enough: As long as we just maintain our own belief in Jesus Christ, then that is all that matters. Everyone else can and need to look after themselves. They need to make up their own minds; and we must tolerate their views and not impose ours on them. If that is our thinking then we too are only spectators, witnessing what is happening, but failing to be the people that our Lord wants us to be. We are failing to be his witnesses.

Today's reading reminds us that Jesus has ascended into heaven, and that he is no longer visibly present with us. Up to this point: his ascension, Jesus because of his humanity was limited to only one locality at any one time. He could only be with one certain group of people and no more. He couldn't be in Jerusalem, Rome and Australia all at the same time.

Now the important work that he had come to do as a human being was finished: now he had taken on himself the punishment for all our sin, in his death on the cross, and had become the atoning sacrifice for all that we are and have done wrong, and so he has restored that broken relationship that was there between us and God. So now all who believe and trust in the Lord Jesus and what he done for us can enjoy eternal life with our God. No ifs - no buts - no maybes! We have been forgiven and restored as children of God, and all we need to do is to believe that: to accept the fact that we are a part of God’s family because of Jesus, and go on living as a member his family.

So there is no need for us to stand gazing up into heaven. There is no need for us to struggle at preparing ourselves so that we will be right for the second coming: making sure that we know enough and that we have got it all sorted out in our brain so that we might be acceptable, and so making worship something that is there merely to keep us strong enough so that we won't miss out on the last day.

But at the same time it doesn't mean that we will be slack about our Christianity either, thinking then, that we only need to come often enough so that we do not lose our faith. That it doesn't matter if we miss a Sunday here and there; because after all Jesus has saved us and that is all that matters. It doesn’t really matter how we live and act.

The whole thing about Jesus and his death, resurrection and ascension is that we can forget about ourselves now, knowing that we are safe in the keeping of our great God, and so get on with doing what he wants, not what we want. Now we can simply trust that Jesus has taken care of our salvation, and so turn our attention toward living and being children of God. We can and are called to be witnesses for and of Jesus Christ, as he has commanded us.

When he said, ‘Be my witnesses’, he was calling and encouraging his disciples, and that includes you and me, to look outward from ourselves, to others. Instead of, as we so often do, to ourselves or simply to heaven. All our efforts and energies can now go into reaching out to the lost, lonely, and hurting. Out of thankfulness to Jesus for our salvation, and knowing the greatness of who God is and what He means for our lives, we will want others to know of his saving work as well. That is why we now come to worship regularly, and study the Scriptures, to prepare, strengthen and encourage ourselves for this witness: so that we are able to be witnesses to the greatness of our God in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus ascended for this very purpose. So that Christians all over the world would experience the same guidance and direction that those first disciples had as they walked with him. Jesus ascended so that he could send the Holy Spirit to live amongst us, his people: so that his Spirit could guide, strengthen and encourage us and every other Christian, as we be witnesses of the greatness of what Jesus means to us. Jesus’ ascension means, that we are now called to be his presence to the world around us; and that we are to share his message of the Good News of forgiveness and new life, with those around us. As we do so, we are enabled to share that which is so important, with those many people out there who are desperately in need of it. We are his witnesses: people who tell others of the great things Jesus has done for us all.

So let us seek the power and encouragement from the Holy Spirit, who has been given to each and every one at our baptism, to do this work. Instead of closing ourselves off and being selfish in so far as our own salvation is concerned, let us reach out and be Christ's presence to others, knowing that we are in the care and keeping of our gracious Lord. Knowing all the while, that the same presence and power of God, goes with us, as it did for those first disciples, and that it goes with us into every aspect of our lives.

Let us be sure that the accusation, that ‘we are so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use’, can not be levelled against us. And at the same time, not allowing that to be an excuse for not doing what we are called to do either; that is to be his witnesses to the world around us. Instead of looking  to ourselves - let us look up and out beyond ourselves and reach out to those who need this wonderful message. Always keeping in mind, Jesus ascended so that we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and be witnesses of the love and forgiveness that God has extended to us all through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So let us not stand about as spectators - witnessing what is going on around us, but instead out of thankfulness for all that our gracious God has done for us, and in obedience to his call, let us be his witnesses. To him alone be all glory and honour, now and always.  AMEN.

Pastor Roger Atze

Glandore/Underdale Lutheran Parish



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