Tag Archives: Acts 1:1-11 sermon


A Sermon for 13 May 2018 – Ascension Sunday & 7th Sunday of Easter

[Acts 1:1-11, and John 17:6-19, NRSV]

A reading from the gospel of John 17:6-19.  If you’ve followed the last couple of weeks of our gospel readings, then you know that this portion of John still happens during that last supper Jesus had with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion.  Apparently, he had a lot to say that night!  This part of John’s 17th chapter has Jesus turning his eyes heavenward to talk with God.  At the close of all the words recorded on his lips that night, Jesus is praying for his followers.  Our own needs are foremost in his heart.  Listen for God’s word to us as Jesus addresses God.

“’I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.  They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.  10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.  11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.  12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me.  I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.  13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.  14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.  16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!


Recently, a colleague told me about a scene from a movie that brought goose bumps to her skin.  It’s one of those sci-fi type films set in a strange, other world.  There are these creatures.  As I heard of them, I pictured some sort of animated thing similar to monkeys – with really long tails.  I’m not sure about the premise of the movie, but after a challenging, chase scene; the monkey-like creatures stop for a moment.  They are somewhere out in a forestry-jungle – and they obviously are exhausted.  Suddenly, in one accord; all the creatures stick the tip of their tail into the land under their feet.  When they do, the scene captures the flow of energy all around.  From the land, into their tails, into each creature’s body.  And from the land below each creature’s feet, outward to the feet of the creature next to them, then up into their bodies too.  In what must have been one amazing moment, movie viewers saw something like a vibrant electrical current connecting it all.  Land to creature and creature to creature.  Like the web of roots under the floor of a forest – connecting one tree to another.  The whole scene transfixed into one!

Last week, I heard another story.  Our Executive Presbyter Warner Durnell told the story in his sermon in worship at the start of the Presbytery meeting last week.  (Source unknown.)  It’s about a farm mouse, who lives in the farm house, and is absolutely panicked when the farmers order a mouse trap to set in the house.  Frantic, the mouse goes from animal to animal shrieking:  “There’s a mouse trap in the house!”  From the chicken, to the pig, to the fattening cow.  Each animal tells the little mouse, “I hear you.  And I can see how you might have need for alarm.  But what concern is a little mouse trap to me?”  The other animals think the mouse’s problem has no impact on their lives.  So, they encourage the little mouse to head out to the field to hide out on his own.  A mousetrap in the house is of no consequence to the chicken, the pig, or the fattening cow.  Until that very night, when the farmer hears rustling close to where the trap had been set.  Fumbling in the dark – convinced of their success in putting an end to the nuance of the mouse that has been in their house; the farmer arrives near the trap only to see – too late – that the tail of a venomous snake is caught in the trap.  Before the farmer can react, the snake snatches down on the farmer’s leg releasing the deadly poison into the farmer’s body.  The story goes that the farmer was rushed to the hospital and thankfully survived the night.  When the farmer and his wife finally returned home the next afternoon, the farmer’s wife decided some chicken soup might be exactly what her husband needed to regain his strength.  She heads out to the barn to ring the chicken’s neck in order to make the soup.  A few days later, the farmer takes a turn for the worse.  All the children come home to sit bed-side, waiting to see if dad will make it.  With the house full again, the farmer’s wife decides to prepare dinner for them all.  Having the pig slaughtered, the family sits down to a meal of ham and mashed potatoes.  Followed by fried bacon for the next morning’s breakfast.  The farmer doesn’t make it.  After the funeral, neighbors from far and wide come calling upon the farmer’s wife and family.  People are everywhere on the farm, and obviously the farmer’s wife is the kind of woman who can’t let a soul go home hungry.  She calls for the fattening cow.  All the guests feast on her infamous beef stew.  From the forest’s edge, the little mouse watched it all.  Terribly sad that his barnyard friends couldn’t see what he saw:  a threat to him was a threat to all.  For as the little mouse knew:  they all were one.

I could go on.  After all, it’s mothers’ day and who knows better than a mother that the child that grows in her womb remains one with her forever.  . . .  One.  We all are one.  Jesus says it in his prayer for his disciples.  “May they know they are one the way you and I, Holy Father, are one” (John 17:11).  He’ll say it again in the verses that follow the reading we heard today.  When he expands the circle beyond the first ones present that night to us all.  The gospel records:  “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one’” (John 17:20-23a).

Today is the day in the church year when we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord.  Ascension Day technically takes place ten days prior to Pentecost; so, forty days after Easter.  In other words, a few days ago on Thursday.  But since it’s not really a Presbyterian thing to gather for worship exactly forty days after Easter, it’s typical to celebrate the Ascension of the Lord the Sunday after instead.  It’s why we’re singing hymns that remind us of the risen and ascended Christ.  And why our first reading was from Acts chapter 1.  Captured there is that mysterious story.  In Acts, we’re told that the Risen Christ had commanded his followers to remain together in Jerusalem.  Waiting for the moment when the Holy Spirit would douse them with incredible power.  Enlivening them to witness right where they were, all over their homeland, and beyond – even to the ends of the earth!  The story goes that as he speaks, the Risen Christ is lifted up out of their sight.  Like the time the prophet Elijah was taken up before Elisha’s eyes.  Those first disciples must have rubbed their eyes wondering exactly what they had witnessed.  Acts records that they stood there staring for a while – likely with their chins on the ground, their eyes searching.  . . .  After all, did you hear what he just told them?  Sure, they were going to get the Holy Spirit.  But it meant that he expected them to go tell the story.  To speak about what they had seen.  To enact what Christ had enacted among them.  To risk angering the very same ones who six weeks earlier had put Jesus to death.  No matter.  He expected them to see the way he did:  one.  One.  Each connected one to another.  One.  . . .  Maybe Jesus’ first followers stood gazing up at heaven to figure out what they had seen.  But, more likely they really wanted to get away too.  So that they were standing there internally pleading:  “Take me!  Take me too!”

How often have the people of God similarly been locked, looking to the heavens?  Over the years, we’ve even concocted all sorts of elaborate – inaccurate – theologies of how someday God will come to destroy this all.  But not before we’re taken up too, either before or after a 1,000-year reign of the returned Christ.  Because really?  Who wants to be left here one more day to endure the difficulties of this earth?  The challenges of a post-modern world.  The fast-pace life of a technological culture.  . . .  No matter how deep the human impulse to fly away into the skies with God, to incorrectly make the spiritual journey all about me and the One up there; one commentator has written:  “Instead of retreat from the world, Christ offers an alternative model that can empower the community to live in the world without succumbing to its values and pressures.  They (we) are to stay in the world under the protective care of God.”  Loving one another because we are connected one to another and to it all.  That same commentator writes that we “are to live amidst all of the knotted complexities of the world without . . . getting entangled.  . . .  Christ reminds the church that the pattern of his own life was not escape from the world but engagement with the world, with all of its distorted powers and pressures (Thomas H. Troeger, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2; p. 547, 549).  No matter how much we might want to stare upwards – to focus on a relationship with a God that is out there beyond us as the point of it all; before his crucifixion, Christ fervently prays for us to look at the space between us.  To know that we might be a zillion different individuals – all created with particular gifts and unique abilities – but we are one.  Connected – whether we want to be or not.  Whether we like the neighbors around us or not.  Whether we have a single concern for their plight, or not.  It’s how we have been made – in the image and likeness of the One that is Father and Son and Holy Spirit too.  Christ in us, and he in God, and we – all – completely one.

May we have the eyes to see, the minds to envision, and the wills always ready to act.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)


Hello and Good Bye

A sermon for 17 May 2015 – Ascension Sunday (7th Sunday of Easter)

Acts 1:1-11  (NRSV scripture included below.)

Today is the Sunday closest to Ascension Day – which is celebrated 40 days after Easter – two Thursdays before Pentecost every year. The idea being that for 40 days (the same amount of time Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his ministry); likewise, for 40 days the Risen Christ was among the disciples preparing them for the ministry before them and readying them for their empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Listen for the word of God to us in a reading of Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11.

“In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 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.””

This is the word of God for the people of  God. Thanks be to God!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really liked goodbyes. Whether it be from a best friend moving across the state or a beloved family member dying. Such endings are emotionally tough. Oh, I realize for certain Enneagram types, which we’ve been learning about on Wednesday nights, goodbyes are no big deal. But for most of us, it feels like a part of our insides is being ripped out and taken along. Like the security blanket is being snatched right out from under our feet. We might do all we can to make it not so: avoid the feelings of loss. Deny the intense emotions with which we are left. Still, we wake up the next morning and the person’s not there. And the world seems worse than when they were with us in it.

Years ago Joyce Rupp wrote an incredible book on the goodbyes of life. It’s called: “Praying our Good Byes.” From the loss of a job, to the death of a dream. From goodbye to health in our bodies, to grieving the loss of a pregnancy. From the shattering of trust in times of betrayal, to the letting go of the lies with which we let ourselves live. From the best friend moving across state, to the loved one whose life slips from this world. Rupp includes beautiful liturgies for acknowledging the loss of all sorts of the goodbyes we experience in life. Feeling that pain and finding a way to let it go. In a way, she seeks to normalize life’s goodbyes – or at least give us some tools to navigate through them. One of the greatest insights she gives for those broken by endings is that life is in fact goodbyes. And life is hellos too. Life is hello and goodbye. One cannot be without the other. Rupp is a deeply devoted Christian who is influenced heavily by the death and resurrection of Christ. So that as we face the mystery of the Ascension we hear of in Acts of the Apostles, Rupp’s reminder rings. She writes: “hello always follows goodbye in some form if we allow it. There is, or can be, new life, although it will be different from the life we knew before. The resurrection of Jesus and the promises of God are too strong to have it any other way” (joycerupp.com). Life is hello. Life is goodbye. And, if we face the loss so that it doesn’t get the chance to take us down all together, sooner or later we see that life is hello again!

It seems a fitting metaphor for the experience we hear about today from Acts of the Apostles. The Ascension of the Risen Christ. Like I said, forty days earlier he had been raised from the death of Good Friday to the new life of Easter. It must have been an incredible time to be a part of his inner circle. Surely they were much afraid. But then they’d open their eyes to see the Risen Christ standing in their midst. He’d be greeting them with peace. Truly trying to bring healing to their hearts and minds from the reality of his violent death. We don’t know everything he said to them during that forty day period back among them. But Acts of the Apostles does record that he told them to wait. Something soon would be coming upon them. The Holy Spirit of God would be the power they would receive to turn any fear in their bodies into unstoppable courage. And then, like grains of sand that quickly slip through an hourglass, like a flash of a star shooting across the dark night, like something that seems to be before your eyes in one second until it vanishes in the next; he’s gone. The imagery here should remind us of a few other unfathomable experiences. Who can forget Moses being up on Mount Sinai in the thick cloud of God while the Israelites fidget below? (Exodus 19-20). And remember Elijah being taken away in the whirlwind – which I’ve heard a Jewish teacher describe as a tornado coming to carry him off on the winds (2 Kings 2:1-12). It wasn’t even the first time a few of them had seen Jesus in a cloud. It happened on that mountain of transfiguration when two men – presumably figures of Moses and Elijah – appeared with him then as well (Luke 9:28-36).

One commentator writes of the ascension that “so long as Jesus was physically present, he was available only to those he encountered (directly); by the Spirit he became powerfully present to many” (A. Katherine Grieb, Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 2; p. 507). In other words, he had to go. Like it or not, the goodbye was necessary. There’s really no need to waste our energy on where exactly he went, how, or when he’s returning. Like the figures said to the disciples who remained there mouths gapping as they searched the clouds of the sky to see if they could spot him again. I love the way the translation called The Message puts it in the quote on the front of the bulletin today: “Why do you just stand there looking up at an empty sky?” (Acts 1:11, The Message). They just received instruction from the very mouth of the Risen Christ. They were to wait for the promised gift of God’s Spirit and then they were to get out there in the world, beginning right there in Jerusalem where he’d been crucified, then to the rest of those in and around their land, until they entered even among their bitter enemies the Samaritans, and at last to break the barriers between them and the gentiles all over the world. There’s a hello to get ready for so that time and effort wondering the where and hows and whens is as fruitless as the disciples asking the Risen Christ if in his resurrection he now was going to overthrow the Romans and restore the throne of Israel. He obliterates all such concerns with a re-focus on the hello. The Holy Spirit will be upon you – in you – in us all! Get ready for a great hello that will empower us to carry out his world-wide revolution of life according to the ways of God’s kingdom!

What a brilliant hello! A power that dissipates all fear. Dispels doubt and makes of us who we need to be to continue the work of the One taking his leave from the confines of his physical form so that he can be with us anew forevermore! The essence of ascension is that he had to go. To take his leave in that way that we all could be ready for the mighty hello of the Spirit. All that was to come after as the mission of God went forth from that one time and place to everywhere and always around this globe. . . . It might leave you wondering what else might need a goodbye in order for an amazing new hello? I’m sure we could make a list of a few things in our personal lives. Patterns and habits that are keeping us from living fully into our God-desired selves. Ways that seem to leave us drowning in the living of our days. . . . And what about in the church – in life together as the body of Christ in this place? For all the wonderful ways we are faithful week in and week out as Christ’s church, aren’t there a few things that need a goodbye? You all are an amazing expression of the love of God and I am honored to be journeying with you during this time of your pastoral transition. I know many of you have been around here a long time and others of you are just getting started. So that your eyes can become cloudy about who you are and the incredible potential in you for future ministry because of your genuine kindness, your helpful care, and your grateful generosity. It will take some rallying together. Some new ways of sharing ministry – every one of you taking on a piece or two of the whole work of God through this church. You’ve experienced it already in my time among you, it takes openness to new ways of worshipping and learning and serving and being led. Letting go of the pain in the goodbyes and looking forward to the joy of hellos. Recognizing the changes you will experience in yourself and in one another as you continue to move into a more intentional direction of making a difference in other people’s lives for the sake of God’s kingdom. As vital churches today seek to do. It will take some giving up and it will bring new life that cannot yet be known. We’re all having to learn new ways of connecting with God and others as the culture in which we live continues to change at break-neck speed and the circumstances of each of our lives keep right on shifting too. Another pastor in the Presbytery and I are banning together to organize a group for clergy who might want be honest together about the ways we need to change as pastors if we’re going to lead congregations of God’s people into this unfolding future with all the energy, intelligence, imagination, and love we can muster and God will give. It’s a challenging time to minister and be trying to live out our baptismal vows as Christ’s disciples. I know we all might hate the goodbyes and want to deny it’s so, but what a gift to be entrusted by God into this time and place for the sake of God’s mission in the world. Like the disciples at ascension who could not yet see the road ahead after Pentecost; we too can trust that amazing hellos await! Glory be to God as we mourn the loss of any goodbyes and get ourselves ready for the wonderful hellos ahead!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)