We All Are Witnesses!

“We All Are Witnesses!”

Acts 1:1-11 (1:8) – May 16, 2021

            I have a confession to make. I do not say the Apostles Creed very often any longer. I used to say it almost every week, especially in the liturgical Lutheran church where I grew up. However, we here in this church do not regularly say the Apostles Creed. I wonder whether you remember a line from that Creed: “He (meaning, Jesus) rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

            Those are just words from a Creed, aren’t they? Those words don’t really mean what they say, do they? Or, are those words instead blessed Gospel truth?

Commentator Carolyn Brown tells us that “during his life on earth, his disciples knew Jesus as a very special person, but after Easter Jesus was different.  He appeared and disappeared sometimes in locked rooms but still ate fish and bread.  Thomas could touch him.  Since the Ascension, people have seen Jesus only in visions and dreams. [The ascended] Jesus is still alive and is not just with God, but part of God.” [1] 

We just read about the last appearance of our Lord Jesus from Acts chapter 1. Jesus lived His life on earth witnessing to people around Him, teaching, healing, telling people about the Good News that He was sent to earth to share. Except – Jesus was about to ascend into heaven.

            What was going to happen to His mission after He left? How were more people going to hear about the Good News that Jesus was sent to earth to share?

            For that, we need to step back and look at the Gospel narratives. In fact, Dr. Luke gives us an excellent summary at the beginning of Acts chapter 1. He says in his first book, the Gospel of Luke, he “wrote about all the things that Jesus did and taught from the time he began his work until the day he was taken up to heaven.”

            Yes, the Rabbi Jesus did send out the disciples, two by two, during His life and three-year ministry on earth. Jesus did empower them to go forth and share about the coming kingdom of God – except it was not quite the same, was it? There could not be a clearer distinction between the sending of the two groups of people – before and after the coming of the Holy Spirit.

            True, the itinerant Rabbi Jesus did travel throughout Palestine, up and down the River Jordan, around the Sea of Galilee, and through the Decapolis in the north, teaching, preaching, and performing miracles for three years. Jesus performed His mission, which was communicating the Good News He was heaven-sent to share. His faithful, intrepid band of followers were with Jesus as interns of sorts, learning, doing on-the-job training.

But, there was a big difference between playing on the second or third string with the Rabbi Jesus there as coach, as opposed to going out on the field with the varsity team, sharing about the coming kingdom of God, to the uttermost ends of the world!

            Isn’t that sort of the distinction between before and after the resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ? Except, we haven’t gotten there yet! Pentecost is coming next Sunday. Not quite there yet!     

            Have you ever watched high school or college sports? I have. My two older daughters participated in a lot of them, especially my oldest. She lettered in three sports in high school: swimming, basketball and softball. Janet was especially wonderful at relay races, in the pool, where one swimmer would swim her laps and then tag the wall for the next swimmer to begin.

            Can you see the similarity? Just as my daughter was really skilled at relay racing and tagging the wall so that another swimmer could start, that is what our Lord Jesus did at His ascension. Jesus told His disciples – both men and women followers – that He was tagging the wall and expected them to carry on with the race. Jesus plainly told the disciples to carry on with the God-given mission to be His witnesses.  

            The Ascension was NOT an end, in and of itself. At least, it did not put a period to the life of the disciples of Jesus. By no means! Sure, when we repeat the words from the Apostles Creed “He (meaning, Jesus) rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,” that is not an ending point!

            Remember back to school days? Near the end of school many elementary schools have field days featuring, among other events, relay races.  Though Jesus did not actually pass a baton to his disciples, he did tell them very clearly that they were to take up his ministry on earth.  Jesus’s earthly part of the race was complete, but theirs was just starting. [2]     

            Yes, with His last words, Jesus commanded His disciples to be witnesses, to tell forth God’s Good News. And, what does that look like? One way is to tell how our Lord Jesus has acted in our lives. What has Jesus done for you lately? I want to know your personal experience! Can you tell someone about that? That’s being a witness!

            I’m getting ahead of myself, but after Pentecost, everywhere the disciples went, they were accused of turning the world upside down. That’s what they did, and that’s what our Lord Jesus is commanding us to do, as followers of Jesus. Sharing God’s Good News is not just a suggestion – it’s a command from our Lord.

            What has Jesus done for you lately? Be a witness! Go and tell!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/04/year-c-ascension-of-lord-thursday-may-5.html

Worshiping with Children, Ascension C, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

Participate in God’s Mission

“Participate in God’s Mission”

mission word cloud

John 20:19-21 – June 5, 2016

The Morton Grove Community Peace Vigil happened last Wednesday night at the Civic Center on Dempster Street. This was a wonderful opportunity for the larger Morton Grove community to get together, pursue peace, and celebrate the diversity that is Morton Grove. The people who attended did their part to promote peace, harmony, hope and friendship.

I have not been saying much about the negative side of this Peace Vigil, or the Peace Project, either. I haven’t wanted to focus on all the negative stuff, and highlight the down side. Instead, I want all of us be positive and hopeful! To pursue peace and promote harmony. However—I do not want anyone to be naïve.

We see and hear reports on the news about the negative side, regularly. Alienation, dissention, fear, and even the threat of violence. That was very much a part of what the followers of Jesus felt immediately after the Crucifixion.

They were afraid for their very lives, and for good reason! Since their leader and Teacher had just been arrested, tried and crucified, it is not beyond possibility for the Jewish or Roman authorities to also come after the close associates of the upstart, rabble-rouser Rabbi Jesus. I suspect I might be very much afraid, if I happened to be in their shoes. (or, sandals)

Let me set the stage. Our Gospel writer John opens the scene in the Upper Room, where Jesus and His friends met for the Passover Supper. The time is immediately after the Resurrection. The horror, shock, fear and anger of the last few days are still overwhelming the disciples. And John has Jesus entering a locked room—the Upper Room. Jesus just died on the cross, a couple of days ago, for goodness sake!

Imagine the intense fear at seeing what everyone suspects to be a spirit, a ghost.

Jesus does not stop there. He gives His disciples a normal, conventional greeting of the day: “Peace be with you.” Just as two friends might say to each other on the street, the marketplace, or in the synagogue. Except—I think Jesus was reminding His followers of the promise He had just made a few days before. The promise of peace. The gift of His peace. Peace be with you. What’s more, He repeats it!

I would like to interrupt for a moment. Give a bit of background. St. Luke’s Church is taking the exciting and historic step of rejoining the United Church of Christ.

In order to help prepare this congregation to rejoin the UCC, I recently enrolled in the course the denomination offers on the History, Theology and Polity of the United Church of Christ. In the past two months, I have read books, written research papers, and had several intensive all-day sessions of class time. Several weeks ago, I received a whole packet of information and material from the UCC.

The UCC has several formal statements—statements of purpose for the whole denomination. One of these includes a Statement of Mission, which is straight-up biblical in every point, every expression. I was fascinated by this particular statement, which includes a preamble, followed by different expressions of Christ’s mission.

Which brings me back to our Gospel reading for today. Here, the resurrected Lord Jesus gives His followers a command, an exhortation: Reading from John 20: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.’”

Jesus gives us a succinct statement of mission in John 20. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” This is how Jesus sent His followers out into the world.

I’d like for all of us to turn to the insert in our bulletins. We will look at the UCC Statement of Mission now. In particular, I want us to concentrate on the preamble: “As people of the United Church of Christ, affirming our Statement of Faith, we seek within the Church Universal to participate in God’s mission and to follow the way of the crucified and risen Christ.”

This is as clear as clear can be: a clear command for everyone—all of us—to participate in God’s mission. Just as the risen Lord told His disciples in John 20:21, we are commanded to bring people to God. To introduce them to our Lord.

Participation. How does that work?

For that, we need to look at the reason Jesus came to this world. He loved humanity, and gave Himself for them. Jesus had compassion on people. Jesus loved people so much, He wanted to reach out and introduce them (or, reintroduce them) to the Lord. And here in the Gospel of John, he gives us the same command.

Do we love the Lord? Can we introduce people to our God? If we do, we are following Jesus, participating in the mission of the church.

Wait a minute! Participate in mission? But, how? When? Can anyone help me? Going out and doing things? Talking to other people, people I don’t know, sometimes? That’s scary!

There are lots of ways to tell other people about God. Another way to introduce people to God is through action, by doing things for God. Common things. Everyday things.

Dallas Willard, an important Christian writer and professor of philosophy, had this to say about doing things for God: don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel. He advised Christians to get on board with a ministry or mission that already was moving. There are so many places and missions already started. Just think of what this church, St. Luke’s Church, is involved in. One big thing is the Maine Township food pantry. That is certainly a mission. Giving food and finances to hungry people? Hunger never stops, no matter what the time of year. It is always a great idea to give to food pantries. And—giving food is a common, everyday thing.

Our church financially supports two missionary couples, too. We pray for Bundled Blessings (the diaper pantry ministry) and for the Rev. Dan and his work with Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship. Those are all outside of the church. Inside our church, we have the Good Shepherd fund, and the St. Luke’s email Prayer Project, our weekly ministry of prayer through email.

            Participate in God’s Mission. Show God’s love to others. Isn’t that what Jesus is commanding all of us to do here in John 20? Seems pretty straightforward to me.

Today, as throughout the past 2000 years, Christians strive to follow Jesus’s command.

As many of you know, this church is in the process of rejoining the UCC; the denomination has formulated its mission—to do what Jesus said. Just like Jesus did, love one another. The mission of the church is often showing that love in everyday ways. Concrete, helping kinds of ways.

For our Summer Sermon Series, we are going to take a closer look at what the UCC denomination says about Jesus’s command. Each week this summer we will be looking at a different aspect of Mission, as set forth in the UCC’s Statement of Mission.

This church—St. Luke’s Church—is on a Mission from God. Will you participate?

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)