Today is Ascension Thursday … the day Jesus departed from this sphere. It reminded me of when our pastor announced he had been called to a congregation in Chicago. He was out of town that particular Sunday just prior to the Feast of the Ascension and I filled in. Well, here’s what came out as I walked into the pulpit looking up and all around …
When I first heard the news Harold was leaving, for whatever reason, my thought was the Ascension. I know I’m a couple of weeks early but I thought I would go with the flow.
Over the past couple of years, Harold and I have become good friends. His leaving certainly isn’t the same as Christ’s leaving so, maybe instead of looking up, I should look west (I looked west). He was not our savior, but he was our pastor and teacher … and now he’s gone.
Maybe that’s what struck me. It wasn’t the parallel events but the people left behind. In a sense, we can relate to what must have been going through the minds of the apostles. And that’s really what I want to focus on today.
Some of you have gone through this before. From what I gathered, when Harold was called, it was mutually expected a full time pastor could be the means to a deeper spiritual understanding and a growth spurt to bring this local church back. We looked laterally and missed the point. We look back a little dazed and bewildered, asking what’s next for this tiny church in Tyre, New York.
I really don’t know what’s in the future, but I do know we have the benefit of a road map of sorts in this (as I held up a bible), something even our first Christian forefathers didn’t have. I suspect they, too, were a little dazed and bewildered.
Let’s go back a little bit. The apostles believed in Jesus … but maybe they didn’t actually realize what they believed. I think they caught His passion and zeal but initially, I don’t think any of the 12 actually caught on to what this Jesus was all about. They were looking for a physical savior … not a spiritual savior. They were looking for a political leader, someone to lift them out of bondage.
And what happened. He was killed … no, not only killed, but humiliated and made an example of. Historically, other zealots have emerged on the scene and with their passing, their cause went with them.
What made this Jesus different?
Three days after His death, He re-appeared to them … not as a hologram, but in flesh and blood. It was the beginning of an epiphany for them. Their eyes were still clouded, but their ears were slowly being opened. This resurrected Jesus ate with them, talked with them and taught them for an additional 40 days. Lord, I believe … help me with my unbelief!
And there they stood on the mount that fateful day and … poof … He was gone again. And they looked up watching Him ascend upward. Why do you stand here looking into the sky?
Ironically, it’s an interesting allusion. They were looking for Jesus — again — by looking up. It’s a pretty safe way to go.
But the sequence brings us back to the original premise. Here they were, alone again, dazed and bewildered. The seed was planted, but it was far from germinated. They had all these ideas and premises and they had no idea what to do with them. Was what Jesus told them true? Would they go to the mat for Him and His ideas?
I think there is a very strong possibility the story could have ended right there … except for two things. The apostles didn’t understand, but they continued to believe. They had listened to the teachings of the Lord. They remembered His words. But most important, they prayed.
Just past the verses we read is the key to success. When they arrived [in Jerusalem], they went upstairs to the room where they were staying … They all joined together constantly in prayer ...
Peter stood up among the believers — a group just slightly larger than our congregation, about 120. Without fully realizing what he was saying, Peter tells them, The Scripture had to be fulfilled when referring to Judas. They replaced Judas by again coming together in prayer.
The full realization, however, comes in Chapter 2 when they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Again they were all together in one place in Jerusalem. Although Scripture doesn’t record it, I suspect they were praying when those tongues of fire descended on them. The commotion draws a crowd. Infused with the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter — who is known more for acting than thinking — addresses the crowd. Some great and wondrous words rolled off his tongue.
… and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved …
… God raised Him from the dead … because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him … God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact …
… Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear …
Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit …
And about 3,000 were added to their number. Not bad for a fisherman turned impromptu preacher!
And the story continues … each time with prayer as a cornerstone.
Did the apostles know what was around the corner? Did they know what tomorrow would bring? Were they prepared for their calling?
No. No. Yes.
Yes, I believe they were prepared because they were grounded in faith … not their faith … Faith. They believed the words of Jesus even in the face of failure. They anticipated something miraculous happening even when they feared for their lives. They were humanly dejected and depressed but they stuck together … prayed together … believed together … and were delivered together.
That’s the parallel I would like to make today.
I deliberately chose Psalm 46 as a reflective reading because it is a tremendous example of God as an ever-present help in our every day lives.
The psalm points us to our refuge, our safe house. God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…
But the poet adds, Be still, and know that I am God. “Let be” reads a marginal notation, but in a colloquialism we have it even more clearly, “Relax.”
This is not a theory of knowledge, to rest is not necessarily to know. But psychology has something to say about the relationship of relaxation to sanity. Indeed, the treatment of minds broken by catastrophes or the inhumanity, fancied or real, of one’s fellow man demands relaxation as the first step in therapy.
We know two things about modern life — tensions are increasing and each of us has a breaking point. This means unless we learn to ease our tensions, they will break us. There is no evasion of that fact.
For those of us for whom tension is not yet a malady or likely to cause a breakdown, the words of the ancient psychotherapist are important. How is one to know God amid the din and clatter of the modern world?
While there may some who find noise as proof of God, for the rest of us the noise distracts us from God. Mountains are shaken, waters roar and are troubled, nations rage and kingdoms — and pastors — move. The result is people are likewise shaken and troubled, enraged or moved. Is it possible at least a part of our growing unhappiness lies in the fact not only tensions grow, but even when we are able to be still, we are not interested in knowing God? These are matters, to be sure, remote in time from our poet, but are they not very near to the things with which he was realistically concerned?
Amid the tumult of nature, he not only affirmed faith; he rested in unagitated calm. When nations raged, he heard above the noise the quiet voice of Yahweh. It was good to be confident but in order to be confident it was necessary to first be still.
One day a little girl slipped into her father’s study. Without saying a word, she quietly sat on the floor close beside him, watching him at work. After a while he said, “Honey, is there something you want?” “No,” she replied, “I am just sitting here loving you.” Soon she left as quietly as she had come in.
Little did she know the lesson she had taught her father. She had not come to ask him for anything. She had just wanted to be near him and love him. The thought came to him, “How often do I spend time in God’s presence, just loving Him and becoming acquainted with Him? Or do I only come to Him when I have a request to ask of Him?”
God not only wants us to bring our requests to Him, but He also wants us to spend time with Him. Yet we are so busy and have so many needs we often rush into His presence, make our requests known and rush out again without taking time to be quiet enough to hear Him. Through the psalmist, God tells us, Be still, and know that I am God.
The true Biblical heroes have something in common. They had a close friendship and walk with God. God spoke of Abraham as “My friend” in Isaiah 41:8. David was described as “a man after Mine own heart” (Acts 13:22). In the lives of Christians through the ages who were strong in their faith, we learn they took the time to be still and become intimately acquainted with God.
Quietness is not just the opposite of noise. It is not the absence of excitement, haste and confusion. These dissipate strength while calmness conserves it. The world’s mighty men have grown in solitude.
In stillness, we can wait and listen … just like the apostles. They came together in prayer, entering their spiritual closet, closing the door and becoming quiet in His presence, meditating on who God is and what He had done for them through their closest friend, Jesus. And as they became quiet before Him, God spoke and revealed Himself through the Holy Spirit.
We, too, must come before the Lord in prayer — communally and individually. But we must be still and know He is God … He is in control … He knows how He wants to use us, each and every one of us, to further His kingdom … He has determined the future of this Tyre congregation …
So, don’t look up on this Ascension Day or any other day. Look around.
And let the faithful say, “Amen.”
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: If you don’t know what you want to do it’s harder to do it.