Ascension Day Observed – 2020 LSB #’s 493:1-3, 492, 493:4-6
Text – Acts 1:6-8
So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, & you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem & in all Judea & Samaria, & to the end of the earth.”
AWAITING THE PROMISE
Another Memorial Day is just around the corner. I attended many of those services as a child, because my father was very active in the American Legion. But during all those years of being around the ceremonies, the speaker was never of interest to us boys; except as our parents scolded us for making too much noise.
I don’t remember any of the speeches, but I do have distinct memories of those services, nonetheless. The boys always waited with nervous anticipation for the gun salute. We’d try to sneak around the back side of the formation & creep as close to the men as we dared. The salute utterly fascinated us, & once over, we’d eye up the location of the empty shell casings.
As soon as the ceremonies ended, & the men marched out of position, we’d swoop in on those casings & gather them up like treasure. Memorial Day brings back fond memories for me now, even though I would not have guessed that as a child.
All those years I was ignorant of what was happening, yet, God was at work blessing me in spite of my ignorance. He was creating in me an appreciation for America’s tradition of honoring war veterans, along with the sacrifices they & their families have made.
During my enlistment in the Navy, God gave me a more personal perspective of those sacrifices. Since graduating from seminary, God has blessed me with the privilege of bringing honor to the veterans, & comfort to their families, through being the guest speaker at several Memorial Day services. I can assure you that as a child, impatiently waiting to collect shell casings, it never once occurred to me that some day, I would be the speaker at one of those services. However, those speaking opportunities have given me an even broader perspective on Memorial Day, & through them I’ve discovered that a promise has been fulfilled.
Not that, as a child I was aware of any such promise. It’s one of those things you only recognize once it is fulfilled. The faithful attendance of my parents at all those years of Memorial services were like a promise finally fulfilled by God. My parents were handing down to me the heritage of honoring those who’ve sacrificed for our freedoms.
Unfortunately, fewer people are hearing the promise of that heritage these days. The number of people attending those ceremonies has undergone a continuous decline. Attendance at Ascension Day services has undergone the same decline, & Christ’s Ascension has become an almost unknown celebration among the members of our congregations.
The heritage surrounding the celebration of Ascension Day is no longer being passed on in most of our families. That promise is not being heard, & most people are no longer even aware of the promise that Christ made in connection with His ascension:
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer & on the 3rd day rise from the dead, & that repentance & forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Pentecost was the fulfillment of that promise as Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to His Apostles. For three years they’d followed Jesus everywhere, up & down the Jordan River, up & down the mountain to the city of Jerusalem. For three years they had no home; no place to call their own. For three years Jesus taught them day in & day out.
Yet, throughout that time, Scripture shows that the disciples had no appreciation for what
Jesus was patiently doing. The disciples were impatient at times, & fell asleep at others. Things no doubt got tedious & boring for them, just like all those years of my waiting for the speaker to get done on Memorial Day. I expect the disciples often wished that Jesus would just get to the point. We hear those thoughts even as Jesus prepares to ascend into heaven.
“So when they had come together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” (Acts 1:6 ESV) Now, doesn’t that question make it sound like Jesus had wasted three years of teaching on those disciples of His? They were still looking for an earthly, material kingdom; a kingdom of riches, influence & power. Why did Jesus bother?
People today have the same attitude toward Ascension Day services. Why bother? What good will they do? It just seems like there’re so many more important things to do, & we already have plenty of opportunities to attend church. What good can come out of attending on a Thursday evening? It does not seem worth the effort.
The same could’ve been said for Jesus’ teaching of His disciples. Yet, God still worked through those disciples, & worked very powerfully. He always works powerfully. It’s just that sometimes the results are more noticeable to the human eye than at others. Sometimes, we have no appreciation for what God is patiently doing.
Sometimes God requires us to see with the eyes of faith. On Pentecost God converted 3000 souls & that was impressive to the human eye. But the conversion of even one soul is just as mighty & powerful a deed, even if it doesn’t look that way to us; even if we are too impatient to spend years waiting to see the promise fulfilled.
The celebration of Ascension Day requires that sight of faith & so far, this sermon may seem to be nothing more than preaching to the choir. I expect that few of you ended up watching this by accident, & those who most need to hear the promise given at Christ’s Ascension are not watching. However, I believe that you are not simply for your own benefit, or because it’s what you should be doing. God has you watching this morning in order that you might have the promise fulfilled, of receiving His Holy Spirit. Then, you are to take God’s promises into the lives & into the homes of those who are not watching at this moment in time.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, & you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem & in all Judea & Samaria, & to the end of the earth,” even to Holt, MI.
God has you watching, to empower you for living His message of hope & promise. As God’s children we are to live that message for those who do not know Christ, & for those who do – but are weak in faith. Our Lord has given us His body & His blood for strengthening us in that mission, because He knows how difficult it is. He was crucified for it.
He died because He understood that the promise of the forgiveness of our sins, is the only promise that will heal. His forgiveness alone brings life & salvation out of death & damnation. Now He’s patiently waiting for you to get to the point; the point of living in the reality of His fulfillment of His promises.
We live in that reality as God Himself grows our faith, as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us through God’s Word & Sacraments. Like attending Memorial Day services for years on end, living in that reality becomes tedious. We get bored. We wonder if it’s worth the bother. Our eyes wander off to more fanciful activities & more enticing pursuits.
Those reactions, however, are not the new man of faith in us. Those are from the old man, the sinful nature. As we trust in God we’re drawn back to the words & the waters of our baptism where that old man is drowned by God’s Spirit. For in our baptism we find a daily renewal of His recreating promise to each one of us, His children.
It’s at baptism that we received the Spirit promised at Christ’s Ascension, the Spirit of
Pentecost. In Holy Communion, & through the Word of God, we also receive that promised Spirit. God has fulfilled His promise each day of our Christian lives, & will continue to do so until the ultimate fulfillment on that day when He calls us to our ascension.
Until then, it’s our privilege to pass down the heritage of our faith, to our children, our neighbors & whomever else Christ brings into our lives for that purpose. It is a difficult task requiring much patience & perseverance. The task is very similar to attending Ascension Day services. It gets tedious & boring. We’re frequently led to doubt if it’s worthwhile.
We often do not see results until years later. Yet, today, I’m thankful to my parents for taking me to all those Ascension Day services. I’m thankful to my parents, pastors & teachers for their patience & perseverance. But especially, I’m thankful to my heavenly Father for instilling in me the hope to await The Promise, & for clothing me in His power.
As Paul wrote in today’s epistle lesson, we’ve been called to the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance in the saints. Therefore as you await the final fulfillment of God’s promise, the awarding of your inheritance as His children, may you rest in the power & the strength of His Holy Spirit. Amen.
On Christ’s ascension I now build the hope of my ascension; this hope alone has always stilled all doubt & apprehension; for where the Head is there as well I know His members are to dwell when Christ will come & call them. O grant, dear Lord, this grace to me, recalling Your ascension, that I may serve You faithfully in thanks for my redemption; & then, when all my days shall cease, let me depart in joy & peace in answer to my pleading. Amen. LSB 492:1, 3.
 Luke 24:46-49 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet