Grace Episcopal Church
The Feast of the Ascension
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
“[Y]ou 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” (Acts 1.8). Notice that Jesus does not say that His disciples will have power, but that we will receive power. And notice that this power is given for a purpose, to enable the followers of Jesus to be His witnesses.
Who are we called to be witnesses to? How are we called to witness to the way, the truth, and the life which is found in (and is) Jesus Christ? Let’s go back to Jesus’ words. We are first called to be witnesses in Jerusalem. For this group of disciples known as Grace Episcopal Church, Sheboygan, where/who is Jerusalem? Jerusalem is home base. Jerusalem is people we know here, in the church. Jerusalem may be those people who you know as members, but you don’t really see here at worship. We are called to witness to them and to each other, including to each other when we do, in fact, gather.
How will you witness to each other? That will be up to the Holy Spirit, but I suggest it must involve being seen to care about each other; to ask about and listen to each other; to witness in helping and in prayer. When was the last time you had a conversation with a fellow church member in which you asked, “What can I pray for about, for you, this coming week?” Or, have you asked for prayer? When we both offer and ask for prayer, we witness to the power of God in our lives. We build up each other in faith. We may, in fact, be called to build up each other in service, but let’s focus first on something as basic as prayer, for in prayer we know that we don’t have power, but shall receive power.
Who are we called to witness to in Judea? Judea is very close to home base, to the parish. Judea can include all those people who are in some way connected with this parish, but who do not gather with us in worship. Judea may, in fact, include people who are really part of Jerusalem—of the parish—but who have drifted away. Your witness to them may be as simple as calling them up/inviting them to coffee, to let them know that they are missed.
Judea will also be those connected in other ways. For example, Judea includes all of the people who regularly meet at Grace Episcopal Church. How many do you know who are in Boy Scouts, or who meet here in AA? Your witness can include inviting them to come to prayer and worship. Your witness can involve offering to come upstairs from an AA meeting, to walk around the church, so that it can become more familiar and comfortable; to meet with the clergy; to welcome people to just “hang out” at the church outside of meetings. Let them feel this place to be home, and they will begin to better know the Householder, the Lord who dwells here.
Judea will include your family members who are not churchgoers. Your witness here must be one of gentleness, one in which you do not challenge a person as to why he or she does not worship, but in which you are prepared to offer why you do. Don’t worry about the words. Trust in God that you will receive the power to convey who God is in your own life.
Samaria is not far off. Samaria is right outside the doors of the parish. In order to witness in Samaria we need to witness in those parts of the community around us with which we do not currently have a connection. This involves real outreach, real evangelism. Let’s be clear: outreach is not service ministry. We are certainly called to works of mercy—to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoner, welcome the stranger. But we are called to do this not as a good work but as a witness to Jesus Christ. We are called to works of ministry in the Name of Jesus Christ. The works are not the witness, but certainly facilitate the witness. When you serve a meal at The Salvation Army, this is an opportunity to visit with those who are served, and to share with them the love of God in Christ Jesus. This may or may not involve words; it will certainly involve you being present in ways that those served experience that you care about them, that you are prepared to listen.
And it’s the same with the rest of the world. Our witness in mission and evangelism is to spread the Good News. But in this mission we must always remember that we are not just going to figure out what to do and what to say. We do not have the power, but shall receive power when we make ourselves available to God’s will. I will, in fact, preach more about being available to God, when our lesson from Acts shows up again this coming Sunday. I will speak about what it looks like to receive power. But for now let’s just rest in the assurance that we shall receive power, and in knowing this power let’s recognize that the greatest blessing in being the Church in this world is that we can inhabit and embody God’s will.
And, finally, let’s note that Jesus tells His disciples that they shall receive power when He ascends to heaven. When Jesus assumes His throne, when His reign is inaugurated—that at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth—it is then that Jesus tells us that we shall receive power to be His witnesses. He lays out the road map for the spread of the kingdom. The rest of the Acts of the Apostles enacts what Jesus says will happen when He assumes His throne. In the rest of chapter 1 the disciples gather. In chapter 2 the Holy Spirit comes upon the believers. In chapters 3 through 7 the disciples are witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea. In chapter 8 the witness extends to Samaria. In chapters 9 through 12 we see the development of the Church in the conversion of Paul, in the establishment of a mission base. In chapters 13 through 28 we see the record of the spread of the Gospel throughout the known world, ending in chapter 28, when Paul preaches in Rome; when he has come to the center and end of the world. And now it’s us. Welcome to chapter 29. Welcome to the life of the Church now, here in Jerusalem and Judea, into Samaria, into all the world, in the power of witness. In Jesus’ departing words as recorded in Luke’s gospel, we are clothed with power from on high.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
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