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The Ascension of our Lord 2018: Heads in the Clouds

jesus ascension angelicoThe Ascension of our Lord

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Acts 1:1-11

May 9, 2018

Having Your Head in the Clouds

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Long ago, when I went with some kids from St. Peter to the Higher Things youth conference, one of the kids said something that might have made some folks back home shake their heads.

 

One of the reasons I took them there was that they used the prayer services from the hymnal for worship.  So every morning, we gathered for Matins.  In the afternoon, for Vespers.  Then Evening Prayer after dinner (I think).  Groups were encouraged to pray Compline privately before bed.  During the day, there was bible study between the prayer offices or sectionals led by pastors.  Then at evening, they opened up the gym or the pool and kids played.

 

How did the kids like it?  Some of them didn’t. But some of them didn’t like the other youth conference with rock bands and motivational speakers either.  Most of them liked it.

 

But one kid told me something like this: “You know, when we gathered for prayer three or four times a day, it was kind of like there was a rhythm to it.  Your day was punctuated by turning to God in prayer.  I feel sad that we won’t be able to do this when we get back.”  I said, “Well, we could!”  (At least, we could do some of them, as often as people wanted to.)  But she got it.  She grasped the reason why those services are in the hymnal, and why Christians through so many centuries gathered together for prayer and to hear the Word of God daily, whether in their homes or at church.

 

Throughout my life people have said that I have “my head in the clouds.”  And they have usually been right.  The girl saying, “Too bad we can’t do this when we get back” is a great example.  Of course we could, but more practical people than I am would realize that the likelihood of getting folks to want to do that here is slim.  But I’m one of those people who is more idealistic than realistic, and also by nature not focused on the little things that need to be done now but instead the grandiose things that probably will never be done.  The older I get, the more I see the importance of paying attention to things closer to the ground, more within my grasp.

 

But there is another sense in which it would be better for all of us to have our head in the clouds, or our hearts.  Or both.  In the collect for today, we asked God to help us ascend into heaven in our hearts and minds with Jesus.  That’s the reason the prayer offices are in the hymnal.  Not because it is a law that you have to pray that way, at those times.  But because a lot of us need help ascending to heaven with Jesus in heart and mind.  We need to be coached to ascend, to listen to our heavenly Father and come to Him in prayer.

 

Even if you are the type of person with your head in the clouds, your nature is that neither your head nor your heart go above the clouds.  They don’t ascend with Jesus to the right hand of God and dwell there with Him.  Not by nature.  Our hearts and minds are firmly fixed on the earth and the ways of this earth.  Even when we dream and float in the clouds, it’s not to God that we ascend.  By nature we [follow] the course of this world…[follow] the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.  (Eph. 2:2-3)  Our nature is to live in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.  By nature we are children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  (Eph. 2:2-3)  It’s not our nature to “lift up our hearts” and our minds and “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).  It is not our nature to believe that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), and to live as if our home is with Jesus at God’s right hand.

 

But don’t believe what you see and feel about yourself.  Believe the good news that Jesus proclaims to you about who you are.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved you, even when you were dead in your trespasses, made you alive together with Christ—it is by grace you have been saved—and raised you up and seated you with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-6). 

 

A little over a month ago Jesus’ suffering was preached to us. We saw Him cast into the dust in the garden asking the Father to find a way for Him not to drink the cup of His anger and judgment on the sins of mankind.  We heard Him cry out in the pains of damnation and hell that He was forsaken by God.

 

There we saw and heard Jesus with us, one with us.  In Him we saw God with us, one with us, not separating Himself from us in our sin.  We saw and heard Him one with us in the defeat and humiliation of death as they sealed His lifeless body in the tomb.

 

Then we heard throughout the next five weeks “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  And the two angels appeared, standing alongside the uncomprehending disciples, saying, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.  He is not here; He is risen.”  (Mark 16)

 

Jesus turned the great humiliation and defeat of human beings into victory.  He was not defeating His own death and sin.  He never had to get entangled with our sin and death to being with.  He destroyed the chains of your sin and crushed your death beneath His feet.

 

And now this day, Ascension, is not just a “going up” that benefits Jesus alone.  The apostle Paul said it; the Holy Spirit said it through Paul.  “He raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”  (Eph. 2:6)

 

Before the Son became man, He was already seated in the heavenly places; He didn’t need to go up.  He came down to meet us in His incarnation.  And when He is raised up, when He ascends, it is us whom He raises to the right hand of God.  It is so that we may ascend in Him.  The eleven apostles saw a man exalted to the throne of God—one of us, one of our kind.  And not just anyone of our kind, but the man whose entire life was in service, in love to us and for us.

 

Where Jesus is now is where our home is.  He is our King, who protects us.  Our shepherd, who leads us.  Our priest, who goes before God for us and wins His favor for us.  He is also our great reward.  So we should claim Him who has given Himself to us and ascend in heart and mind to heaven with Him.

 

That, of course, is not something we are able to do naturally.  And that is why Jesus gives us His Spirit through His Word as it is preached, read, taught, sung.  That’s why the early Christians used to worship and teach the Word of God in their homes daily, and gather together daily to hear God and call upon Him.  They were “lifting up their hearts.”  They were ascending. Through daily hearing of the Word of God, the Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus by faith, and through faith in Jesus we pray and draw near to the Father in heaven.

 

The strange thing, though, is that ascending into heaven in heart and mind with Jesus does not lead us out of the world, to escape the world.  It doesn’t make us people with “our head in the clouds.”

 

Heaven really isn’t “up in the clouds.”  It’s not limited to a place.  God fills all things, and Jesus’ body is not limited to a single place like ours, now that He is exalted.  His divine omnipresence is communicated to His human nature, and He is with us, not only in Spirit, but bodily.  From His throne He works and reigns throughout creation.  He says to His disciples: You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  The Gospel reading from Mark tells us that “the apostles went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.”  When the apostles bore witness to Jesus, He was “working with them” to save people from their sins and everlasting damnation.  The apostle Paul says the very same thing in 2nd Corinthians 5 and 6: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us…Working together with Him we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 5:20, 6:1). 

 

When a pastor preaches the pure Gospel, Jesus Himself works with him.  He makes His appeal through him.  Jesus Himself offers you salvation through him.

 

And so, when we receive Jesus’ Word, and through hearing it with faith ascend with Him, our head doesn’t get stuck in the clouds.  We are drawn down into this world, and are concerned about it and the people in it.  We are concerned for their bodily well-being here, but even more for the salvation of their bodies and souls.

 

Because our King who has ascended and lives in heaven is concerned for them.  He is still making His appeal to the world: “Be reconciled to God,” urging them to believe that He has reconciled God to them by His death.

 

And from His high and holy place He pours out the power from on high through which He assures us of our place in heaven and through which we are able to bring His appeal to the world.  This power is the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.  Just as Elisha received this spirit when Elijah was taken up into heaven, and just as the apostles were baptized and immersed in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, so Jesus the King has poured out this gift, this unspeakably high gift into you.  First when you were baptized.  Now in His holy meal of His body and blood.

 

Through this Spirit we ascend with Him.  We find assurance that our home is with Him through the Gospel.  And that same power that gives us confidence toward God gives us power from on high to go out as ambassadors and witnesses to our world—not to build our own kingdom in our own way, but as witnesses of the ascended King and His Kingdom.

 

Amen.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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Why We Rejoice at Jesus’ Ascension. The Ascension of our Lord, 2015.

The Ascension of our Lord

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 24:44-51

May 14, 2015

“Why We Rejoice at Jesus’ Ascension”

Iesu iuva

One of the hymns we sang today is an old one, written by an old English pastor in the 8th century.

A hymn of glory let us sing!

New hymns throughout the world shall ring!

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Christ by a road before untrod

Ascends unto the throne of God!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Etc.

 

Now stop and think for a minute. Isn’t it strange that we praise God for the Ascension of our Lord Jesus? It certainly appears that way if we think according to the flesh. Why would we praise God that we no longer have Jesus visibly present with us? Wouldn’t it be better if we could see Jesus, hear His voice, touch Him? Wouldn’t it be better if He preached to us?

That’s what the disciples thought before Jesus died. When He told them He was going away, they were filled with sorrow.

I’m not sure if you can judge people’s appreciation of the Ascension of Christ by how many people go to church on the day of the Ascension. There are other reasons why people don’t come, probably mostly because they’ve never done it before. But maybe part of the reason is that to our flesh it doesn’t seem like something to celebrate. Most people think of Jesus’ ascension as His going away, and if they see it that way it’s easy to see why they might not want to celebrate it.

But you might notice: What did the apostles do when Jesus ascended into heaven? In the account from Acts they just stare into the sky with their mouths hanging open until an angel comes and tells them that Jesus will come back in the way they saw Him go. But in Luke’s Gospel it says, “They worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” The apostles were sad when they heard Jesus was going away before He died. But when He actually did go away into heaven after His resurrection, they rejoiced. They were not sorrowful, but full of joy.

So God willing, after hearing this sermon you also will rejoice with the apostles at the Ascension of Jesus. Because Jesus did not ascend into heaven to rob us of joy. He did it for the same reason He did all of His works—for us, for our salvation and comfort. Everything Jesus did, He did for us men and our salvation. And His ascension should bring us great joy, because it is the goal of our faith. We believe in Jesus not merely so that we may die with Him, or even rise from the dead with Him, but so that we may ascend into heaven and reign with Him.

First of all, the ascension of Jesus is a cause of joy to us because it means that our Lord Jesus is victorious. He is not being carried just anywhere. He isn’t going to outer space or to a waiting room. He is being exalted to God’s right hand. That means that Jesus, who is both a man like us and God’s eternal Son, is now lifted up to the highest place to rule over the universe and all creation. According to His divine nature, Jesus always had this glory and honor, but in His humanity He laid aside this glory for a little while. That’s why in His life on earth He was slandered, dishonored, spit on, made to suffer, made to die in agony on the cross. But now He is lifted up to sit on the throne of God and reign over all creation, over every living thing, whether humans or angels, rulers or devils. The same man who was crucified is exalted to the throne of God. And we should rejoice over this as Christians, because Jesus is ours. He is our Savior and our King, and He is mightier and more glorious than any king has ever been. He not only reigns over a portion of the earth; He reigns as king over everything—earth, sky, water, air, fire, over all the animals, over all people with all their wisdom and power, even over the angels and demons. All are subject to Him, and even though they might oppose Him, He reigns over them. Nothing can take our Lord off His throne.

Second, we should rejoice in Jesus’ ascension because He has defeated our enemies. He has knocked down everything that barred the way to heaven. He has opened heaven for us.

Sin,

Death,

Hell,

The devil’s reign.

Third, we rejoice in Jesus’ ascension because He has pioneered the way to heaven for us. He has blazed the trail to heaven. Not as though we try to walk the way He did in order to earn eternal life. But we follow the trail that He blazed for us, living in His death and resurrection through our Baptism into Him, trusting that His suffering has merited that we be counted not guilty before the Father.

Fourth, we rejoice in Jesus’ ascension because He did not go away from us but instead fills all things.

God is present everywhere in all power and knowledge. Because our Lord Jesus is exalted to the throne of God, He is present everywhere as both God and man. He is with us not in weakness but in glory and power.

That’s part of why the disciples rejoiced. The disciples knew that even though they couldn’t see Him, He was with them because He was at God’s right hand and God is present everywhere.

And He was with them not as judge and critic but as the one who had saved them. And since He was at God’s right hand He was reigning over the universe for their good. Nothing could slip through His fingers and harm them, nor can anything slip through His fingers and harm us.

Fifth, we should rejoice because He is present to do His work in the midst of the Church.

In preaching and witnessing it is not merely us talking about an absent Jesus, but Jesus is present in the preaching. He is speaking and announcing the forgiveness of sins through His death and resurrection. He is bestowing the forgiveness of sins from the right hand of God.

In Baptism it is not merely water and not merely our ceremony, but Jesus is present in the water through the Word giving salvation.

In the Lord’s Supper it is not merely bread and wine, not merely our activity of remembering a distant Jesus. But He Himself is present, giving His body with the bread and His blood with the wine.

That’s why Jesus keeps telling His disciples that they will be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, that “repentance and forgiveness of sins” must be preached to all nations.

Jesus is exalted to be Lord over the whole earth. He reigns over the whole earth. And He does this not simply by controlling the affairs of the earth. He extends His grace to the ends of the earth by proclaiming and distributing the forgiveness of sins to the ends of the earth. He does that by preaching His victory over sin, death, and hell, and whoever believes it has it.

But Jesus makes us reign with Him by putting His words in our mouths.

This is the reason we do not need to be afraid when Jesus’ Church seems to be a little, weak, easily scattered flock.

Jesus is exalted to the Father’s right hand. He is victorious over all enemies, even over sin and death. And He is with us, in our midst. Not only is He reigning on high, but He makes us co-rulers with Him as we proclaim His kingdom to the ends of the earth.

So we rejoice in our Lord’s ascension. He has not left us. His exaltation is for us. He is with us, and He will bring us to be where He is—at the right hand of God, not only in our spirits but one day in our bodies.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Ascension 2014. Where is Jesus’ Throne?

ascension3The Ascension of our Lord + St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, Illinois + St. Mark 16:14-20

May 29, 2014+ Where is Jesus’ Throne?

 

If you stretch out your hand and look at it, you can see the tendons that enable it to move and grasp.  You can probably see the veins that carry the blood from your heart to your fingers.  You can see the small bones, without which you couldn’t do the simplest things—fish out your keys, use your cellphone.

 

A human hand is a powerful thing.  We depend on it for so much of our lives.  Yet our hands are fragile. The bones are easily broken.  A well-placed cut can sever the tendons and make your hand useless, or open a vein that causes your lifeblood to flow.

 

But when we stretch out our hands, so useful and yet so fragile, we are looking at the hand of God.  Because the one who ascended into heaven to reign is true man.  The hand He once stretched out in infancy to His virgin Mother is the hand that holds all power in heaven and on earth—the same fragile hand that was pierced by the nail driven into the wood of the cross.

 

The Ascension of Jesus comforts us with this.  The hand that holds all the power in the universe is a human hand that was once fragile like ours.  The hand of Jesus now holds the scepter and rules over all things; He is seated on the throne at God’s right hand, exercising all power and authority.

 

And His reign is for us.  He uses the power in His hand for us.  His throne has been established for our salvation.

 

Jesus’ throne and His power are not only for us—they are among us.  Just as His human hand is filled with all the fullness of God, so the human members of His body, the church, are also filled with the power of God despite our own fragility and weakness.

 

Jesus throne is above every power at the right hand of God, and it is also among us, where His Gospel is preached and people are baptized.

 

Jesus throne is above every power at the right hand of God.

Why do we confess in the creed that Jesus “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty?” Jesus did a lot of other things that we don’t mention in the creed. Why confess this?

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Where I am, there will My servant be. Funeral Sermon, Ascension, 2013

388_AscensionAndreaDiVannid_AndreaJesusCROP1355-60In Memoriam + G

F Funeral Home

St. John 12:23-32 (Acts 1:1-11)

May 9, 2013

“Where I am, there will my servant be”

Jesu juva!

INI

Dear A, V,

R, R, P, B,

All of G’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren,

Family and friends,

Members of St. Peter Lutheran Church:

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The word of God to comfort you this morning, from St. John’s gospel:

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

 G was honored by the United States Army for his service to our country.  A bronze star.

The Bronze Star Medal is an individual military award of the United States Armed Forces. It may be awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit, or meritorious service in a combat zone.”

 

Jesus says, “If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”

 

How will the Father in heaven honor the one who serves Jesus?  The same way Jesus was honored:

 

He was glorified.

 

He was lifted up from the earth.

 

Today is the ascension of the Lord, when He was taken up and sat down at the right hand of God to reign over heaven and earth until He puts all things under His feet—including at the end, death and hell and the evil tempter and deceiver, the devil.

 

But when Jesus said that He would draw all men to Himself, He was not only talking about His ascension but what happened before it—His death on the cross.

 

To serve Jesus we must follow Him.  Just like a servant waiting on someone will always be nearby.  We must be with Him in dying to the world and our own will.

Then we will be glorified with Him.

 

But who really serves Jesus this way?

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Prayer for the Day of the Ascension of our Lord

ascension plaquePrayer on the Day of the Ascension of our Lord (rev. 2013)

Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz

Jesus Christ, Son of the Almighty God!  You no longer dwell among us on earth in poverty and wretchedness.  You have ascended to the right hand of Your Father as Lord over all.  We beseech You: send us Your Holy Spirit.  Give us devout servants of the Church who hold fast to Your Word.  Fight Satan and all earthly tyrants, and mightily preserve Your kingdom on earth, until all Your foes lie beneath Your feet, and through You we triumph over sin, death, and all things.  Amen.Johannes Eichorn, 1511-1564

Mourning for the Ascension of Christ

hesshusiusThe Magnificent Consolation of Christ’s Ascension

Beloved, you know that in our creed we speak like this: “He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”  It is for the sake of this article of the faith that we Christians celebrate today’s festival, the joyful Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ…

…These days it is considered brilliant to speak according to the flesh, as if this article of were not a comforting teaching at all…as though God had left us and abandoned the world.  Indeed, the way the Zwinglians* preach of the Ascension, they really ought to be mourning instead of rejoicing.  They claim that Christ’s body is many thousand miles away from us, and that it will not come near again until the Last Day.

Whether that is the joy and consolation of a believing heart, which has its highest delight in the Savior Jesus Christ, a Christian may consider for himself.

Our reason also creates such thoughts about Christ’s ascension, as though it meant that He had left us.  If the Lord Christ had taken His Apostles’ advice as to whether He should ascend to heaven, without doubt they would have begged that He not allow Himself to die, as Peter asked and even admonished Him.  “That will never happen to you, my Lord!” he said.  Such thoughts come often to us also, so that we wish that the dear Lord Christ were remaining with us on earth instead of seeking Him in heaven.

But this comes about because people do not look at this article of the faith correctly, nor rightly understand the Lord’s power.  The Lord Christ is by no means absent from us now that He has ascended.  Rather He has made Himself even nearer to His whole Christendom than He was before.  He has conquered heaven, is seated at the right hand of God, and has prevailed over the wretchedness of this world, so that He is with all Christians until the end of the age.  Therefore we should learn to correctly understand this article of Christ’s Ascension, so that we might seize hold of its magnificent consolation.

Tilemann Heshusius (1527-1588) (Lutheran Pastor and Theologian), from “Sermon on the Day of the Ascension of Christ.”  Postilla: that is, explanation of the Sunday Gospels throughout the whole year.  (1590)

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