Baptists insist that we are not liturgical. We don’t don much in the church calendar usually. We mark Christmas and Easter, Advent, Lent. Sometime Pentecost (next Sunday by the way). Ascension was Thursday. How many of us did some observance for it? Well, this morning, we’re gonna look a bit deeper at Luke’s account of the Ascension. More specifically, I want to look at the Disciples’ response to Jesus’ departing from them, and how our own experience as a church mirrors that (or at least, I think it should). And so, let’s look at three key items (because in a sermon, you need three points, right?… but we’re not liturgical!). We worship, We Pray, We are sent
“Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” (Luke 24:52-53)
Worship is a response to what God has done, not a seeking to be filled or seeking to experience God, or merely using words to praise God. It is a response to the call of God to be transformed. The Apostles saw Jesus raised from the dead. Imagine the mind boggling effect that has. When have you ever thought of death as anything other than permanent? What if it’s not? Shouldn’t that change you? Shouldn’t that change everything? Shouldn’t that make a difference? Shouldn’t that become your number one priority? Shouldn’t you want others to know that? (we’ll come back to that in a second). Am I crazy for saying that? If I am, please let me know (I like to know when I’m off my rocker). We should fall in awe of this. It’s ok to be left with your head spinning. It’s earth shattering stuff. This should cause you to pause and say, ok, this God I hear about is real. He raises the dead. Wow. God should rock your world. When God moves, things change.
In the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 4 children enter an alternate world, Narnia, where the White Witch holds the land under a curse. And the allegorical Christ figure Aslan seems absent. But the children encounter a family of talking beavers who share whispers…
…Aslan is on the move…
And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning—either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in his inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realise that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.
When God moves, things change, and we need to take notice. But often, just as suddenly as he showed up, we suddenly cease to see him at work. One of the characteristics we see in Aslan is that he is allusive, he shows up suddenly, then for periods folks don’t know what he’s doing. Christ rose from the grave, spent time with his friends, and then left again. He was there blessing them, and then he’s gone again. He left as suddenly as he showed up.
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
There is joy, even though they now don’t see him. Somehow the presence the disciples had for forty days has filled them with new trust and new confidence. Luke tells us that Jesus “opened their minds so the could understand.” Why Jesus didn’t do that earlier, I’m not sure. The comforter is coming. They get that now. They have seen the power of God revealed in history. God has acted, and shown himself true to his promise, and is preparing to do something new. Whether we see it or not, God is working something. Christ has now risen to the right hand of God. The Saviour was gone, but the comforter was coming. Things are about to get awesome for that little band of ragamuffins. Same goes for this little band of ragamuffins- the church then, and the church now.
Do you crave the real presence of Jesus in your life? Do you already have it? Awesome isn’t it? The Psalms tell us “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Ps. 34:8
God wants to move here. Are you ready for him? Are you ready to rumble? Are you ready to be clothed with power from on high? Are you ready to see what happens when Aslan roars?
But are we able to worship God when he seems absent? Between the time he pours out his Spirit in mighty ways and now, can we continue to worship him? Or will we lose heart? What if the dry spell goes on for days, weeks, years?
In Acts 2, the Spirit falls on Pentecost while the church is gathered. For 10 days they stayed in Jerusalem, going to the Temple, and sharing together, worshpping and praying. They were associates of a convicted and executed criminal, and they stay put, even showing up at Jesus’ enemies place of employment. But they worship with joy. With the threat of death right in front of them, they worship, and pray.
When you’re waiting for the Spirit to reveal ministry to you, it should be a no-brainer to pray.
One sentence I’ve heard a lot lately is “we’ve been praying for this for so long”.
Funny question: do we know what we’re praying for? And do we expect to see it happen? Or are we “practical atheists”? Do we profess belief and then act as if God isn’t there? Do we pray, and then live as if we don’t expect God to act? When we pray, do we assume God will answer? And will his answer be yes?
Do we pray big enough? Specifically enough?
I’d love to know what the church was praying for those ten days between the ascension and Pentecost; to be a fly on the wall of those first gatherings. Jesus had promised this new power and mission. Just hang tight. Something big is coming. Uh… ok Jesus, wanna fill us in a bit more?…
But can we translate that to the experience of our own congregation? Is it appropriate to look around us and say, ok God we want to see something happen here. We trust that there will be something big. But when? And what will it look like? I think so. We’ve been praying. Long before I came here to Centre Street, people were praying. Before I was even born some of this congregation were praying for a moment like this. A time when this congregation would be called to rediscover the call of the Kingdom of God, and be filled with the Spirit and see the mighty hand of God do something spectacular.
So we pray. We have prayed. We are praying and we will continue to pray. We pray for power from on high. We pray and anticipate that God is about to show up.
Is that how you pray?
So, what happens when God shows up…
We are sent
The Apostles are given a promise- a promise that they will be sent out. Christ arose, and handed the ministry to the Church. In order to guide the process along, he send the promised one, the Holy Spirit, and the Church is clothed with power. “I am going to send you what my father has promised” he says. The disciples are given an “open-ended commission” (Darrell Bock, Luke, NIVAC, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, 622); just do it. Get to it. Not a single task, but a call to make their lives about something else; testify to the living, risen Christ in them (and also in us)- to witness to the power of God to raise the dead, and presence of the comforter; to preach repentance and forgiveness in all nations. That’s what we’re empowered to do. To set the captives free. Bless the hurting, comfort those who mourn, protect the vulnerable, and live out the character of God in front of the world. The Spirit sends us out there, to extend the Kingdom of God into our world.
Hallowed be thy Name; thy Kingdom Come; thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Translation: God, make Earth more like Heaven. Make this place reflect the goodness you have. Bring together earth and heaven, God and mankind. Make us people who are a visible sign of God’s goodness. God, change the very reality in which we exist.
Are you up for that?
Why do you gather with God’s people? Because you’ve always done it? You feel like it’s your duty? It makes you feel warm and fuzzy? When we come together for worship and prayer we are supposed to be seeking out the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and giving thanks to God for who he is and what he’s doing. It’s a response. A recognition of God’s ability and inherent goodness, and a pursuit of the power to bring about transformation. That’s why Paul writes:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
Sometimes we are met with a powerful moment, where God is so present it’s impossible to not see it. Then, suddenly, we can’t seem to see him working. So how do we sustain ourselves in those times when we want, or crave the presence of Christ but don’t see him working?
Are we able to worship God in those dry times? We may have Easter Sunday experiences. Peaks, mountaintop moments. But we also have times where we’re seemingly sitting on our hands waiting for God to fill us in on what’s on the horizon.
In those times we need to redouble our commitment to worship and prayer. We seek out God and his Kingdom. Different folks have different opinions on the Lord’s Prayer. As I mentioned earlier, Baptists try to claim that we aren’t liturgical, so we shy away from memorized prayer sometimes. But if you find comfort in it, use it. But know what you’re asking. When you pray Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, what are you asking? Are you prepared for what will happen when that prayer gets answered?
Are you ready to see the power of God poured out? Are you ready to roll up your sleeves? Are you ready to rumble?