The Ascension of JesusActs 1:6-11 (NRSVUE)
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
When we gather at the communion table, I often start by saying, “I have an amazing story to share with you!” Now that story about what happened in the upper room when Jesus taught the disciples, and us, about communion was pretty amazing, and it is an important piece of God’s amazing story, but God’s Amazing Story is much bigger than that.
When you hear the words “God’s Amazing Story,” what story comes to mind first? Perhaps one of the creation stories, or Adam and Eve? The story of Noah and the Ark, or one of the Moses stories? When he is a baby in a basket, he’s talking to a burning bush, he’s parting the red sea and leading his people out of Egypt? Maybe when he is assuring his people as they wander in the wilderness, or teaching his people the ten commandments. Perhaps when he realizes that after all of his hard work, though his people will make it to the promised land, he will not?
Maybe when you think of God’s Amazing Story, you think of other prophets: Abraham or Isaac, Miriam or Deborah, David, Samuel, or Jerimiah. Maybe you think of someone being swallowed by a whale, or thrown into a lion’s den, or tossed in a fiery furnace. Perhaps when you think of God’s Amazing Story, you think of love stories or poems or songs, families or tribes, or communities. Or maybe you think of buildings and temples and walls of all kinds being built, falling, and being built again. And we haven’t even gotten to the New Testament yet!
In the New Testament, God’s Amazing Story brings us the birth of Jesus on that first Christmas Day when we experience Emmanuel–God with us. It tells of angels and animals, of shepherds and kings, all wondering and sensing that this tiny child will indeed change the world! We hear the call of the disciples and the telling of parables. We hear of miracles, healings, and unexpected friendships. In God’s Amazing Story, Jesus and the disciples don’t settle in one place but travel by foot and by boat to continue teaching and healing and reaching out beyond society’s expected boundaries.
Near the end of the gospels, we hear that Jesus returns to Jerusalem one last time. He rides into town on a donkey in a parade as people wave palm branches and shout, “Hosanna!” Jesus keeps teaching and healing though the authorities are getting nervous. And because of the fear of the government, by the end of the week, the cries of “Hosanna!” become cries of “Crucify him!” Jesus is tried and convicted, and sentenced to crucifixion. He is killed on a cross, and his body is placed in a tomb. But the good news, my friends, is that is not the end of God’s Amazing Story–not even close! Three days later, Jesus is raised from the dead, and for forty days, he appears to the disciples and to others assuring them that they are never alone, that they have the gifts they need, that the advocate–or the Holy Spirit–will come to help them, but that it is their job to go out and to teach and to heal and to continue to tell God’s Amazing Story.
Now we find ourselves at the next transition in God’s Amazing Story. This past Thursday, May 18th, in the Christian church, we celebrated the Ascension of Jesus. The ascension happens exactly forty days after Easter. And it is the day, as scripture says, when Jesus said to his disciples, “‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
Folks, I like to think of this part of God’s Amazing Story as the disciple’s “graduation day.” I know that we have several graduates connected to our church family, and as you all know, graduation time can be exciting and scary at the same time. Lots of hard work has gone into getting to graduation. Relationships with teachers and friends have been forged, and a sense of comfort has set in, having finally learned the ropes of school expectations. And now it’s time for change again.
In scripture, Jesus has taught the disciples. He walked with them and talked with them. He showed them the ropes and explained to them the expectations. But they will never learn to do it on their own if their teacher is still around. Jesus had to leave to give the authority and responsibility over to his followers, just like graduates need to move on to the next step in their journey through life. Now it can be scary and sad and exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. But that’s what God’s Amazing story is all about. For thousands of years, God’s Amazing Story has held moments of challenge when people have pushed the boundaries and learned by making mistakes. Folks, God has given us free will to learn and to grow, always loving us unconditionally just the way we are but also challenging us to make us something even better!
Friends, next week, we will be hearing the next part of God’s story when the Holy Spirit appears in the wind and fire, and the world is changed yet again! Did you even notice in God’s Amazing Story that it’s never about staying the same, being comfortable, or having control over what happens next? God’s Amazing story is always moving and changing. There are transitions and new paths. People and communities travel and change and grow, which may sound scary to some of you, but be assured that God’s Amazing Story is not about fear. It’s never about fear! It’s not about judgment or exclusion or who’s in and who’s out. God’s Amazing Story is about love. It’s that simple. It’s about unconditional love for everyone! No matter who you are. No matter where you’ve been. No matter where you are on life’s journey now.
Now there is a reason why we’re stopping here in God’s Amazing Story at the celebration of Jesus’ Ascension and not finishing the end of the story. Because to tell you the truth, there isn’t an end to the story. Sure, we could talk through the rest of the Bible, with the forming of Christian communities and the epistles or the letters sent from Paul and several other apostles to encourage the early churches. We can even talk through the book of Revelation with its strange imagery and prophecy when all that the book of Revelation really talks about are possibilities of a new creation and the true fulfillment of God’s promises. But though the Book of Revelation may take us to the end of the Bible, God’s Amazing Story doesn’t end there either!
Folks, each and every one of us are a part of God’s Creation. And so God’s Amazing story is still being written in and through us! That’s why, like the disciples, we are called every day to share God’s love and God’s Amazing Story with the world, just like the disciples were called to do on that Ascension Day so long ago. Friends, please, don’t feel afraid or overwhelmed, I know that it may sound like a big job, but truly it is a gift! Because what we are called to do is not to stand on the street corner and preach and pray and tell others how to live their lives. What we are called to do is simply celebrate every moment of every single day. Because who and what we are is a part of God’s Amazing Story. What we say and do is a part of God’s Amazing story. And the beauty of the world around us is absolutely a part of God’s Amazing story!
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, breathe and smile, and be grateful. Celebrate each moment and appreciate the world around you. Because you are a special part of God’s Amazing Story. So, go out in the world, not fighting, arguing, and looking for what you think you deserve, but go out into the world to live and love unconditionally. Because then you’ll continue to let God’s Amazing Story be told through you!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!