Ascension Day sermon -The meaning of the Action

Ascension, May 14, 2015, 7:00 pm
St Dunstan Parish, San Diego
The Rev Robert G Eaton, Interim Rector

(with thanks for an internal thought connection from John Donahue, SJ, JST, Berkeley)

Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke24:44-53, Collect 1
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Ascension of Jesus, as you heard tell of it in the lessons this evening, especially in Luke, is sometimes explained as the EXALTATION of Jesus. And because there is such an obvious change in the geography of Jesus, his GPS location on this day, from HERE, to THERE, it is very easy to define Exaltation as Jesus’ leaving this earthly kingdom, and resuming his place as the Second Person of the Trinity in all Glory.

As an aside, When it came to recognizing the location of the ascension, the Church seems to have ignored the story in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus ascended from the town of Bethany. Luke tells us plainly that Jesus ascended into heaven in the vicinity of Bethany. This village is down the east slope of the Mt. of Olives about 1.5 miles (2 km). Unfortunately, that would make none of the traditional locations for the ascension are correct.”
The traditional locations zeroed in on the three summits of the Mount of Olives. Today there is a religious structure on each of the three summits.
First was The original Chapel of the Holy Ascension, a site chosen by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, built in 392 AD, destroyed by the Persians during their invasion of Jerusalem in 614, was subsequently rebuilt by Crusaders, and later captured by Salah al-Din in the year 1187 AD. According to the Mount of Olives Hotel website (you see, when you are doing vital research you always consult the local authorities, such as hotel websites), the chapel was then used as a mosque. However, As a gesture of compromise and goodwill, Saladin ordered the construction of a second mosque and mihrab two years later, next door to the Chapel, for Muslim worship, and allowed Christians to once again and make use of the main Chapel.

The issue of “where”, though, may have been the tradition of “footprints.” Sometimes in art depicting the Ascension you will see a couple of footprints, either on a rock or on the ground next to a group of astonished disciples. And this main chapel contains what is traditionally the last footprint of Jesus on earth before he ascended into heaven.

Our old English friend The Venerable Bede wrote in the 8th century AD of the Mount of Olives site refurbished by Saladin:
” In the midst of the chapel are to be seen the last Footprints of our Lord, the place where He ascended being open to the sky; and though the earth is daily carried away by believers, yet still it remains, and retains the same appearance, being marked by the impression of the Feet. Every year, on the day of the Ascension of our Lord, when Mass is ended, a strong blast of wind is wont to come down, and to cast to the ground all that are in the church.”   Well, not so much anymore. Through those centuries, as when Bede wrote, tourists and pilgrims were allowed to take portions of the rock. There’s not much of the rock left, except a small portion of one of the footprints.

Besides location, While exaltation is the focus for the day called the Ascension of the Lord, you should not miss this — that Jesus also commissions his followers to carry on his mission. The church, like the disciples, is not to stand looking aimlessly at the sky but is to carry on Jesus’ mission to the ends of the earth.

Paul makes this connection as well, in the reading from Ephesians, as we have a portion of chapter 1 before us on this day. And it is the FUNDING of this mission, if you will, that I want to point out. In order to have mission somewhere, you have to fund it. And in the most foundational part of the monarch who funds, it will be specific to the receiver, but at the same time for the benefit of the entire Kingdom.

Lets take a look.
What I have referred to as this funding of mission is spoken of by Paul earlier in chapter 1, at vs 3. First, the outpouring to us; second, that each of us have been chosen to receive this funding for mission; and third, all for his glory, which He then simply keeps pouring back out on us. Here is vs 3 through 6. And 11 and 12.
1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace,which he has freely given us in the One he loves; .
And in verses 11 to 12 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
It is all part of what Paul presumes of his readers when he wrote in the portion of chapter one which was read this evening, especially in verses 18 and 22
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

If we look further into Ephesians we find the other half of this progression of God’s riches as gifts, and thus this kingdom funding of the mission calling.
From chapter 4, (7-8) But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
Descending in death. Then Rising. And then Ascending and taking captives as the first step of mission. This phrase comes from Psalm 68:18. I understand it to mean that all that God had intended from the creation, including his blessings, his individuation of both adam and eve, the abundance of the garden, was lost in sin and death.

Then the closing act, Jesus, rising from the dead, regathers all that had been lost in the treasures, perhaps even the treasury of God for ALL to be in purpose and mission, and then as the exalted Jesus, like an enthroned monarch, can dispense gifts to his people in blessing, and He does. And that pouring out begins mightily at Pentecost, 10 days later, and ever since in the outpouring of the spirit.
These gifts are then the different offices and ministries given to the church, which Ephesians expresses in an important manner: to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain the unity of faith.

The work of ministry is the mission of all the saints, and the function of the offices, prophets, etc. is to equip them for this work. The Ascension  should permeate all discussion of mission and ministry today.

It is our time now to look up, ask for the blessings of outpouring, and receive God’s wise dispensing for His mission still on earth. And the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which you may ask for, will be your catalyst in power.

What is it that Jesus has given to you so you may a funded enterprise of mission for his kingdom?

Amen.

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