Fresh Beginnings

Ascension Sunday – 29th May 2022

Growing in Christ with Fresh Beginnings

History reports Jesus walked among his disciples forty days after resurrecting from the dead. He spoke daily about the kingdom of God. He promised a power to come upon the Church. That power would be the Holy Spirit of God. That power was demonstrated as Jesus ascended up into heaven before their very eyes. Such power is immeasurable by human standards. That power was released on Pentecost, which we celebrate next Sunday.

Today, we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord.

Our Easter sermon series has focused on Growing In Christ. As individual Christians and as a collective body of believers, we have been following the lectionary readings from the Acts of the Apostles to learn about Growing in Christ. What have we learned thus far?

That we have Fresh Soil to grow from. Just as the disciples found their world turned over upside down, so too we have been ploughed over by Covid-19 and loss of leadership. Things will never be the same and that is okay. We have a new start.

We have also learned we are breathing Fresh Air. The disciples were invigorated by an atmosphere embolding them to defy authorities who wanted to silence their witness. Their lungs were full of divine oxygen breath in and out, God’s testimony.

We have learned about our Fresh Sun. Being enlightened by personal and collective experiences of Jesus, our understanding expanded to revaluate the world’s sensual wisdom limited to sight, sound, taste, hearing, and smell. We have a spiritual sense that knows life is more than a result of random accident and it has a purpose of glorifying our Creator.

We have learned of Fresh Elements. The resurrection of Dorcas reinforces that of Christ’s. The Gospel delivers new elements for our work. Our deeds and actions now have an eternal consequence for good. There is a present preparation for the life that follows physical death.

We acknowledged Fresh Challenges. The newness of life in our resurrected Lord presents challenges not beforehand experienced. Our traditions and world-views are challenged. They are replaced by a new reality in Christ’s resurrection from Death and Hell.

Last week, we rejoiced in Fresh Hope. New frontiers are opening for us. As a church, we are on the verge of reconnecting with one another and South Auckland in a new way. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in our life and mission. That same Spirit is promised by Jesus at His ascension. That Spirit’s arrival to the Church is celebrated next week.

Today, we celebrate Fresh Beginnings resulting from the Ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We have Fresh Beginnings with new teachings and a new Power.

New Teachings

We grow as people in Christ with Christ’s teachings. Jesus brought new teachings. He taught the way to God is exclusive and not inclusive. He taught God’s love is connected to the death, burial, and resurrection of God’s Son. He also taught that God’s Son is the key that unlocks the mysteries of the Old Testament.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.You are witnesses of these things. Luke 24:44-48

Have you noticed how the slides in today’s service all depict the ascension of our Lord by showing only his feet? I did that on purpose—including the somewhat out-of-focus image.

Frederick Farrar, in examining paintings depicting scenes from the life of Christ, first suggests that the ascension would be better left unpainted. But pondering why artistic renderings of the ascension fail adequately to represent the event leads Farrar to the heart of the matter.He concludes that the main thought in the ascension ‘is that Christ has forever taken into the Godhead the form of the Manhood’.

(Jesus Ascended)

In other words, Jesus, a person within our Triune God, ascended as human and now the Godhead includes humanity in its image. The though was thrilling to Farrar that he made an appendix to his commentary with a poem:

Tis the weakness in strength that I cry for! my flesh that I seek
In the Godhead! I seek and I find it! Oh Saul, it shall be
A Face like my face that receives thee; a Man like to me
Thou shalt love, and be loved by for ever; a Hand like this hand
Shall throw open the gate of new Life to thee! See the Christ stand!

We grow in Christ through his teachings. We also grow with a new power never offered so freely before.

New Power

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.” Acts 1:8-11

Rather than getting caught up with theories of levitation, let’s focus on the theological image before us.

The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.

(N.T. Wright)

And so Luke closes his gospel as his history of the apostle’s Acts begins: with an historic account of Jesus ascending upward into heaven. The immeasurable power that propelled our Lord upward through the sky was given for us to be witnesses. We are to testify that the scriptures speak of Messiah’s death, burial, and resurrection. This good news is the hope of humanity and it explodes with immeasurable power.

That power is none other than the Holy Spirit himself. And we will explore that further next week as we celebrate Pentecost, and the week following, Trinity Sunday.

Published by St Johns Papatoetoe

Presbyterian Church, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, Auckland, New Zealand belonging to Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ).

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