The Ascension of Our Lord
May 26, 2019
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
I have a question for you. How many of you are named for a mother, father, grandma or grandpa? Are you somewhere in your first or second names connected with their history and heritage? Or how many of you gave your name to kids or have some connection name-wise with grandkids or even great-grandkids? Let’s see some hands. What does that do to you? Does it make you proud that some generation to come will bear your name? Does it humble you that some parent or grandparent wanted you to carry on their name? Does it make you a little more responsible now that you carry someone else’s name? Before you headed out the door on a date or a night with some friends did someone remind you, “Remember you’re a Fitzpatrick or an Adams or a _____________? Does your name carry a little weight about how you turn out, what you do or how you live? Some 62 years ago my folks looked at me (and probably cried!!) and then named me John R. Larson. The R is for my father, Russell. I’m proud that I carry the name of my dad. I have a great respect for the man that he is. And I hope that he is proud that I carry that name too.
Namesakes are important. Well, Ascension Lutheran Church, your name is important. I don’t know how the Ascension of Jesus was highlighted in our name rather than the events of the birth or death or resurrection of Jesus such as Mt. Calvary or Mt. Zion or Emmaus. We weren’t named after an Apostle like St. John’s or St. Paul’s. No, we are Ascension Lutheran Church. What does that name mean to you about who we are and what we are about?
This coming Thursday is the Ascension Day – 40 days from the time that He rose physically from death on Easter, He physically rose from this earth. The Ascension tells us that Jesus leaves us but He doesn’t leave us alone or empty. He comes with His blessing on that Ascension day. The Bible says, “When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Luke 24:50-51)
Being the church of the Ascension means that we are a church of the blessing that comes from Jesus Christ. Every time we are connected to this assembly of believer’s we are to be receiving the blessing that comes from God Himself. We should see in numerous ways that Christ is raising His hands of blessing through the heart and actions and ministry of this place.
Did you hear about the doctor and his patient that got it all wrong? John Brandrick is suing his doctor because he is going to live. Brandrick was told that he had terminal pancreatic cancer and that within months he would be dead. So Brandrick quit his job, went out and spent all his money on travel, vacations and food only to find out that he was misdiagnosed. Now his money is gone and his health is restored and he is suing his doctor for all the money he blew. They got it wrong.
The Ascension tells us that God gets it right. When God speaks His word and it cuts right down to our core showing us our sin and then He soothes us with the news that sins are paid for in the death of Jesus and that we are made new and strong, that is Christ getting it right, raising His hands over us in blessing. When we are restored to the fullness of who we are as God’s own in the life giving waters of Baptism, or when we receive the feast of God’s redemption in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, that’s the blessing that Jesus has in store for us.
We don’t have a self-made answer for life or sin or death, but Jesus does. The Ascension tells us that He left with hands raised, flowing with grace and love and hope – with every blessing to us.
Secondly, the Ascension tells us that Jesus leaves us but He gives us a wonderful purpose in life. Luke, who wrote our Gospel account also writes the Book of Acts, and this is what he says, “After He [Jesus] said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?’” (Acts 1:9-11a)
“There’s work to be done!!” That is what the angels were saying to them. The Ascension tells us that the church of Jesus has a purpose to life. You have a purpose. I have a purpose. This church has a purpose. Rick Warren, a pastor in California, wrote the book The Purpose Driven Life, and his question throughout the book is ‘Why in the world am I here?’ That’s a question that every person, and especially every person who caries this namesake of the Ascension, must answer.
Back in the days of the old west, there used to be three classes of tickets on the stagecoaches. The ride was equally bumpy and dusty, no matter which ticket you held. But the real value of the ticket emerged only when the stagecoach got stuck. If you held a first-class ticket it was your privilege to remain in the coach, while the crew labored to push it out of the mud. If you held a second-class ticket, you were expected to get out of the coach, and stand off to the side while the others worked. If it was a third-class ticket that you held in your hand, you had to get out, roll up your sleeves, and push.
Do you know what kind of ticket you, as a member of this church, or as one of our worshippers, or as a believer of Jesus Christ, have in your hand? Third-class!! People of the Ascension don’t stand and stare into the sky – they have work to do and have a purpose for living. We get out and push. This church needs your involvement and service and so does your family and so do your neighbors and so does your employment.
Finally. the Ascension tells us that Jesus leaves us but He leaves us filled with joy. In this account of the Ascension in Luke we read that Jesus was taken into heaven and then the response of the disciples of Jesus was: “Then they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually in the Temple, praising God.” (Luke 24:52-53)
The response is different than what I would have expected. I would have expected sorrow. “If only He would have stayed…we could learn from Him and be with Him and receive blessing after blessing from Him.” How many people today, how many of us, have said – ‘If only I could see Jesus all of this would be easier…’ But He leaves and they are filled with overflowing joy. You see, He put it all together for them. His birth and His teaching and the miracles and then the death and His Resurrection and the Ascension all made sense. He had opened the Scriptures to them and they could see God’s great purpose of saving them and all mankind through all these acts of Jesus.
It was joy know because He ascends in glory and rules over the entire world with His authority. It is joy in knowing that our life goes to Him when we die, when the purpose of our life here is completed. It is joy in knowing His triumph and glory.
So, in 1955, 64 years ago some people took a vote and said this church is going to be called Ascension Lutheran Church. That is our namesake. Are we living up to such a name? Do we, and all the people who come here, know that through the sacrifice and death of Jesus and through His resurrection, the hands of Jesus are raised in blessing upon us? Is our hope for salvation found only in Jesus? And do we all know that we have great opportunity to be the hands of blessing to others in the name of the ascended Jesus?
Do we live up to our name knowing that God calls us to do meaningful and significant things with our life? Do we ascend everyday, asking for the will of God to be done daily within our life? Are we people filled with a joy that is real and persistent and alive? Do we live out that word of Jesus that says, “And no one will take away your joy”? (John 16:22)
People of Ascension, we have a name to live up to!! The Ascension tells us of the blessing and the purpose and the joy. But always, people of Ascension, we are dependent on God to do His work that we might be what He has called us to be. On that first Ascension Jesus promised the power of the Holy Spirit that would come 10 days after His ascending. He said to His disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised.” (Acts 1:4b) “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses.” (Acts 1:8) They were to live up to their namesake, but not by themselves – they were empowered by God’s own Spirit.
And the same is true for us!! To live up to this glorious name of the Ascension, a name for blessing and purpose and unending joy is not by self but through the power from on high – God’s great Spirit. And when it is all said and done may we say as we have sung on other days, Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, O Lord, but to Your name give glory, to Your name give glory. Amen!!
(It was on May 20, 2007 that this sermon, “Our Namesake” was originally preached.)