Monday, June 30, 2014

Ascension Sunday "A Call to Broaden Our Vision!" Luke 24:44-53

This is a sermon for what many traditions call ascension Sunday.  Tradition holds that this day celebrates the day Jesus goes up to heaven to remain with the creator until the second coming.  I was trying to think of title and well with some help we came up with a list.  One person suggests “Beam me up daddy”, how about “up up and away” or to quote Cartman “Screw you guys I’m going Home!”, or that’s it “I’m outta here.” and finally from the apostles point of view.  “Well, I never saw that coming”.
Pastor Bob Brink captures the emotion behind this story; “When you were in school, did you ever have one of those subjects that you just didn’t get? When I went to seminary, it was the Ascension. Christmas makes sense. God bridges the gap between heaven and earth. Easter makes sense. God breaks the power of death. Pentecost makes sense. God sends the Spirit to teach and empower us, but the ascension? How does Jesus going away make anything better? I can totally empathize with the disciples, staring up at the sky.
Imagine their emotional roller coaster. Palm Sunday and the crowds love you; Good Friday and they want to kill you. Holy Saturday, you weep; Easter Sunday, you rejoice. The risen Jesus spends 40 days with you, eating and talking and explaining, but what’s 40 days? It’s the blink of an eye.” [1]
It is interesting to note that biblically speaking only two others have had this account of being taken into heaven, Enoch and Elijah.  In genesis Adams descendants are listed one by one till Noah and each one had a son and lived so long and died, except one, Enoch.  Of Enoch Genesis 5:24 states “Enoch Walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.”  It is fascinating, at least to me, that all the other descendants listed lived and died but Enoch walked with God and was taken.
Pastor rink goes on to explain about Elijah; “Which brings us to Elijah. I won’t make you turn there, because it’s a long story. Let’s sum up. Elijah is commonly recognized as the greatest of all the prophets of Israel. The Bible records 14 miracles in his lifetime, a great Hebrew number. 7 days of creation mean that 7 is the number of completion or perfection. Double sevens, means Elijah was the ultimate prophet. He walked with God, and just like Enoch, God took him.
But before he left, his student, Elisha made a bold request. He asked for a double portion of his master’s spirit. And the request is granted. When Elijah goes up, his mantle falls to the ground. A mantle is an outer cloak, worn for warmth, but a nice one can be a symbol of power, like a well-tailored suit speaks of influence today. By putting on Elijah’s mantle, Elisha is sending a message to everyone who sees it, that he is continuing the work of his master. And he does. The Bible records 28 miracles for Elisha, exactly double the number of his master.
Therefore, when Jesus leaves us, it is not as orphans. He goes up so that his Spirit might come down, so that we can take up his mantle and continue the work he began. Perhaps this is what he meant when he told his disciples that they would do even greater things than he.”[2]
The scripture says Jesus then opens their minds to the understanding of scripture.  He gave the twelve a way of seeing and understanding.  An understanding of the ancient being fulfilled in the present.  This is an understanding of the work of God continuing from before history, through Christ, unto the 12 and beyond.  This is a time of broadening their vision; you see they can no longer directly look to Christ for everything.
This is the final commissioning of the Disciples as Christ states; “In the messiah’s name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached to all nations beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses to this.”  Actually the followers of Christ, especially those who had received a miracle, had already been witnessing to this.  Many times you heard how after a miracle they went to the temple and made their offering and proclaimed thanksgiving for the healing.  Then the story of the women at the well where in John It states “Many Samaritans from that town believed in Jesus on the strength of the women’s testimony” (John 4:39) what Christ started was continually happening around the disciples, or maybe, in spite of them.
Here Jesus clears their minds so that they can finally put everything together.  Their rooted faith comes alive and they can be seen worshipping in the temple.  That is brave considering what was done to Jesus and knowing the fear and anxiety they had been experiencing just 40 days before.  They are not mourning a loss for it is the living Christ that goes to heaven with a promise of more to come and an empowerment that is their own.
Christ says wait in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.  This recalls Elijah being taken up to heaven and his “Mantle”  Falls to the ground  and  By putting on Elijah’s mantle, Elisha is sending a message to everyone who sees it, that he is continuing the work of his master.  Christ is sending his mantle, the Holy Spirit, which will birth the Church and move it beyond the walls of Jerusalem. 
Now what does this all mean for us today?  What does Christ opening the mind of the disciples and commissioning them have to do with us today?  A Lot, as a matter of fact, everything, everything it meant then.  Christ is calling us, through the Holy Spirit to understand his ministry then, which was accompanied by the ancient text, which predicted his coming and had shaped his society, and in reality made him relevant. This is a call to broaden our vision and see the relevance of Christ for today.
Today we are gifted with opportunities to seek out the Old Testament, listen to scholars and teachers, and learn for ourselves what they meant to Christ in Christ’s time and what they mean for us today.  In the exact same way that the mind of Christ followers were opened so they could understand and address their contemporary audience.  We are challenged, often times directly, to do the same.  I say arm yourself with scripture, understand what was written for whom and what it meant then and what, if anything, it may mean today.
For centuries the bible has been misused as a weapon to continue the oppression of people.  Reverend Patrick Rogers at UCC down in Pensacola on may 25th was a part of a counter protest against some radical fundamentalists...he wrote in face book “The part of last night's fundamentalist protest and assault on our LGBT community (and allies of which there were many) that saddens me the most was their approach to reading scripture (the Word of God). Prior to reading the sacred text, they would chant together "READY, AIM, FIRE!!!" thus declaring their intention of using the Bible as a weapon against others.”[3]
The Bible has been used to Justify some of the most horrendous historical atrocities of humankind, from slavery, to suppression of women.  “There was a time when most Christians believed slavery was the will of God. There was a time when most Christians believed women should not be allowed to vote. There was a time when most Christians believed that interracial marriage was wrong. Each position was elaborately supported with biblical arguments -- and each position, we can now clearly see, was dead wrong.”[4]
And "[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God... it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation... it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts."[5] --Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.
The inquisition, which is hardly mentioned any more, justified, estimated as lows as 32,000 to as high as 135,000. For crimes such as teaching anything other than Catholicism (heresy), witchcraft, blasphemy, Bigamy, Sodomy (most cases of older gentleman and adolescent as opposed to consenting adults), and freemasonry.
The Bible and women, I am sorry ladies but in the instance that a father sells his daughter to another man who is not pleased with her, she must be redeemed. Regardless of the amount of satisfaction that the girl provides for the man, God’s rules still allow him to acquire another wife. If he so chooses, the first wife is not allowed to leave unless her master refuses her food, clothing, or other marriage duties (Exodus 21:7-11).
If a man decides he no longer wants to be married to his wife, he can attempt to have her killed by claiming that she lost her virginity prior to their marriage. Following this accusation, the woman must then provide sufficient physical evidence, such as a bloodstain, to demonstrate that his accusations are fraudulent. In the event that she fails to prove her innocence of this “crime,” she is to be stoned to death because of this utmost act of disgrace. Guilty until proven innocent is the law within God’s court. Any woman who accidentally tears her hymen due to an injury or other non-sexual act is simply out of luck because she could never prove her virginity. Thus, she would be at the mercy of her husband throughout her entire life. If evidence is produced to exonerate the woman in question, the accuser is fined a couple pounds of silver and forced to stay married until death (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)
According to the rules of Moses, the deceased father’s inheritance goes entirely to his sons. If he has no son, it goes to the daughters. After that, the inheritance should go to the closest male relatives (Numbers 27:8-11). Not only do the boys of the household have priority over the girls, the wife is also noticeably absent from the will. Instead, God’s law forces her to marry her husband’s brother, provided she doesn’t already have a son with her former husband. However, the brother-in-law has the right to refuse the marriage; the woman does not (Deuteronomy 25:5-9).
Even in the New Testament Timothy says that females shouldn’t wear decoration or try to usurp authority over their husbands. Instead, women should remain silent and fully submissive to them. As he also declares that Adam was not the one who was deceived in the Garden of Eden, Eve is clearly the party implicated as being responsible for the downfall of man (1 Timothy 2:9-15).
On our own website my Rev. Dr. Husband, Bob points out  “There are seven texts used or rather misused as texts of terror, as weapons against translesbigay people: Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Genesis 19 and Judges 19, 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10; and Romans 1:26-27. These texts, misused by some, reflect a model of ancient sexuality and gender codes different from those in our postmodern world. The issue behind these biblical texts traditionally applied to homosexuality does not concern same-sex behaviors but deals with phallic violence and gender transgressions.”[6]
If you have not read Practicing Safe Text on our webpage, for your own education, I encourage you to do so.  Bob goes on to point out “Many contemporary Christians object to Paul's views on women and his support of slavery in the Greco-Roman world. They have rejected his opinions on women and slavery as the word of God, realizing that these are his opinions, holding little weight in our contemporary Christian practices. Why many still cling to Paul's cultural opinions expressed in Romans 1:26-27 and ignore sound biblical interpretations of scholars has less to do with theological or biblical reasons and more to do with prejudicial motivations best left to the psychologist or therapist to explain.”[7]
Now allow me to repeat what I said earlier… Today we are gifted with opportunities to seek out the Old Testament, listen to scholars and teachers, and learn for ourselves what they meant to Christ in Christ’s time and what they mean for us today.  In the exact same way that the mind of Christ followers were opened so they could understand and address their contemporary audience.  We are challenged, often times directly, to do the same.  I say arm yourself with scripture, understand what was written for whom and what it meant then and what, if anything, it may mean today.
There are opportunities for study and research. Christ has gifted us with the capability for understanding the scriptures what they meant then and how, through the Holy Spirit they are still relevant today and that in no way can be taken literally for through the Holy spirit the scripture is revealed as new, as very current and as sacred.
With prayer and contemplation accompanied by research and reflection one can discover what the bible might say to them directly.  This is the gift of the ascension.  You see the ascension with its final blessing and gift allows the focus to move from the man of Jesus Christ and waiting for his next revelation to the practice of seeking to understand his revelation and the living Christ as it is manifested in the word, in the spirit and in the world today.
Finally the last thing Jesus does it take the disciples out to Bethany and, while blessing them, he is carried up to heaven.  While he has just told them to see, learn, understand and preach his final act is one of example in giving a blessing he asking the disciples to be that blessing.  To live and act as Christ has asked is to be a blessing in the world.  So one more time, I ask you to pray, study and preach…each of you be Christ’s blessing in this world. Amen.

[1] Bob Brink, God must laugh, http://( (accessed May 26, 2014).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Patrick Rodgers, our counter protest, http:// (accessed May 20, 2014).
[4] Life Journey Church, Would Jesus Discriminate, http://( (accessed May 26, 2014).
[5] the confederate partisan, every qoute you'll ever need, (accessed May 26, 2014).
[6] Rev, Practicing Safe Text, http://( (accessed May 26, 2014).
[7] the confederate partisan, Every Qoute You'll Ever Need.

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