Acts 1:6-14 – The Ascension (Luke’s second version, in Acts). You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 – Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him.
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 – Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
John 17:1-11 – Jesus’ high priestly prayer. I have made your name known to those you gave me from the world.
Friends in Christ,
Here we have “Luke’s” ascension story, which is quite different from Mark and Matthew. Rather than have Jesus ascend from a mountain in Galilee, Luke has him ascend from Mount Olivet near Bethany. To this day, just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem, you can visit the traditional Dome of the Ascension and see the “actual footprint of Jesus”.
But if Luke has “Mark’s” gospel when he writes, why then the rather obvious “departure departure”? I think it fits Luke/Acts overall structure and strategy. The Gospel of Luke begins with a decree from Augustus that “all the world should be enrolled” – all the Roman world – which was “the world”. The scope of Luke – the story of Jesus and his disciples – then gradually narrows from the world to Jerusalem. Acts does the opposite. It’s scope – the story of the risen Christ and his disciples – broadens from Jerusalem to the world. “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.” And, of course, the actions and tribulations of the disciples in Acts, reflects and echoes those of Jesus’ ministry; the stoning of Stephen being but one example.
In fact, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” is already an echo of “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”; and therein may be a preaching hook. We seem to like the “narrowing focus” of Luke from the world to Jerusalem; however, I think we are often much less attracted by the “broadening focus” of Acts from Jerusalem to the world. We are wont to “seek the living among the dead” and “stand gazing into heaven” rather than moving on with the risen Christ.
What might this mean for congregational ministry? To what are we to bear witness for Jesus sake? And, what precisely is this “good news of great joy for all the people”?
As we had the first third of John 10 on “Good Shepherd Sunday”, so now we have the first third of “Jesus High Priestly Prayer” on this last Sunday of Easter before Pentecost. Jesus prays that those “given to him” might be one; even as he and the Father are one. Icon of the First Ecumenical Council held at Nicea
Moving from the unity between the Father and Jesus to the unity of those given to Jesus, the words from a verse of “Onward. Christian Soldiers” (which, thankfully, in my opinion, did not make the cut in the ELW) come to mind: “We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity.” Well, maybe not always quite so much.
One can argue, “Of course the Church is one. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.” That is true. There is only one church, one body of Christ; but I’m not sure that is the world’s perception. So, this prayer for unity has often been used as a clarion call for a healing of intra/interdenominational relations. (And perhaps even a call for healing interfaith relations, depending upon how broadly one interprets those “given to Jesus.”) A witness (to use Luke’s idea) of unity, but not necessarily uniformity, is a salutary goal for the sake of the world. “For God so loved the world…”
But what was going on in the community that the author of John was addressing? I think that there was a crisis going on. Towards the end of the first century, the intra-Jewish debate going on between those Jews and God-fearers who believed that Jesus was the Messiah/Christ and those that were still waiting for another, reached the boiling point. The Jewish communities could no longer abide the disparity and those that believed and claimed Jesus as Messiah were either being thrown out of or leaving the synagogues. (I think that John 9:22 is an allusion to what was actually occurring.)
This was a crisis; perhaps not unlike the crisis for Judaism created by the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. The common association with the synagogue had been part of the “social/spiritual glue” connecting those that claimed Jesus as Messiah. Without that association/connection what might happen to the “Christian community”? Maybe it will be fine. Maybe synagogues and ties to all that once was are no longer necessary – and maybe they even are an impediment. But who knows? It’s a brave new world. It’s a crisis.
And so, in the midst of a scattering threat, a profound prayer for unity and oneness in the world. “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
And therein lies another very preach-able truth. We too live in a time when much of the old “social/spiritual glue” is breaking down. Once separated from much of what has been – from all the “synagogues” and “social associations” of our past – who are we? And, apart from what was and how we once were, how are we now to be followers of Messiah Jesus in this brave new world?
I think those are questions worth asking and exploring with our people.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Don Carlson
During the months of June through August, Bishop Michael Rinehart will be on a three month sabbatical. His plans include travel, prayer, walking, reading, and writing. He will be out of the country for some of that time.
He will return on September 1, rested, renewed, and God-willing, a new creation in Christ.
During this time, Pastor Don Carlson will be writing the weekly devotionals.