Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon -- Ascension, transferred (May 17, 2015)


Pastor:            Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:              He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     Someone had once suggested to me that when a pastor chooses a Confirmation verse for his student, he is also choosing the text for that person’s funeral.  It probably does not work out that way very often, and I pray that we will not have to worry about Lindsey’s funeral for decades to come.  Nevertheless, your Confirmation verse will serve you well throughout your life and even in the face of death itself.  It also testifies why we find such comfort at the Ascension of our Lord into heaven.
     The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)  When you look at the world around you, it might seem like you have plenty of reasons to fear.  Tragedies take place on train tracks in Philadelphia.  Riots and protests are becoming more common place.  Earthquakes devastate Nepal.  Drought plagues California.  The world is full of problems, but that is nothing new.  Your own life will see its share of misfortunes and tragedies, too.  Friendships can blow up.  Temptations will not cease.  Death leaves no family unscarred.  And life comes with so many uncertainties and frustrations that we often wonder how we can cope. 
     Lindsey, you have studied Luther’s Small Catechism and have had years of Bible classes at St. Paul’s.  I do not say that you have completed your studies, because you are not done.  You will never be done as long as you are alive.  In fact, you will become more aware of your need for your Bible and your Catechism as you continue to grow.  You will discover that life in the Christian faith is never squeaky clean like your confirmation gown.  You will struggle with sin.  You will hear seductive voices try to lead you into temptation.  The Seventh Petition will not be mere memory work.  “Deliver us from evil” will be a continual prayer on your lips.  And you will often wonder, “If Jesus lives and reigns over all, and if I am a child of God, then why is life so hard?  Even Christ’s Church looks as messed up as the rest of the world!”  These are the conclusions that we can draw quickly when we look at our life and our world.  It seems that there are good reasons to fear.  Sometimes it might feel there are good reasons to quit, too!
     That’s why St. Paul prays that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened….” (Ephesians 1:17-18)  The eyes of your heart recognize that fears and frustrations do not rule.  They are not in charge.  Jesus rules.  The LORD is my light and my salvation.  The LORD is the stronghold of my life. (Psalm 27:1)  And he is greater than everything.
     There is nothing to fear since Jesus has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  Maybe that sounds to you like Jesus has left us, as if to say, “Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father.  Therefore, he is not here.”  But “the right hand of God” does not refer to the placement of his throne, like saying that the pulpit is on your right side in the church.  For most people, the right hand is the strong, dominant hand.  So when we confess that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, it means that Jesus Christ has assumed all the power, honor, glory, and majesty of God. 
     Jesus rules for us.  Jesus has not left us.  His promise is quite the opposite: “Surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)  Wherever God is, that is where Jesus is.  God is omnipresent; so that means Jesus is always with us.  He is especially with us when we gather in his name to hear his word and receive his gifts.  Where the Gospel is preached and administered in the sacraments, Jesus is there to deliver his forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He is not here figuratively, like you might try to keep alive the memory of your grandmother.  No, Jesus is truly, really present with us.  Therefore, his forgiveness, life, and salvation are not figuratively given.  They are real, and they are yours.  Not only that—Jesus dwells in you, therefore, his gifts are yours wherever you go.  Nothing can strip and rob you of them—not hatred, not slander, not rejection, and not even death.  So, you see, there is nothing to fear.  Jesus rules for you.  He is the stronghold of your life.
     Now, in some ways, the ascension of our Lord might seem unimpressive.  We confess that Jesus Christ is God—God from God, Light from Light, true God of true God. (Nicene Creed)  To hear that God reigns is hardly surprising.  But remember that Jesus of Nazareth is also true man.  He who is true man is now seated at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:20-21)  Therefore, man possesses all the glories of heaven.  Man has entered the very presence of God to dwell there forever.  And again, this is for your benefit!
     Jesus Christ became man to unite himself to us.  He took up our cause when he became incarnate.  He submitted to the commandments of God and fulfilled them all.  And so, man has kept God’s commandments and earned righteousness.  Then he went to the cross on behalf of all mankind.  He suffered, died, and was buried; for that is what men deserve for their sins.  But then Jesus rose from the grave.  A man suffered God’s curse, died, and went to the grave only to rise his grave.  Man has overcome death itself.  And now, Jesus ascended into heaven to dwell in the presence of God the Father forever.  Jesus united himself to us for all of these things so that we will follow the pattern he has established—from our lowly, mortal state through death to the resurrection to life and glory everlasting.  Jesus lives and reigns to guarantee all of these things for us.  Jesus rules for us.  In all these things, Jesus has exalted humanity so that we shall be recipients of glory in God’s presence forever. 
    Jesus rules for us.  But understand that Jesus’ rule is not only to guarantee glory for later.  Jesus’ rule benefits you now.  Jesus rules over all things in this age.  God the Father put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things (for) the church… (Ephesians 1:23)  Granted, it often does not look like it.  No Christian’s life is squeaky clean.  No one is exempt from the problems that exist in a sinful world.  The Church does not even look like the Church should look.  And since there will always be people who despise Jesus, there will always be people who despise and mock you too.  When you experience such difficulties, do not think that something strange is happening to you.  This is why the confirmation vow includes the phrase about suffering everything, even death, rather than turn away from Jesus and the true faith.  Though you will not suffer everything, you will have to endure some things.  But your sufferings do not mean Jesus has relinquished his rule or that he has forgotten you.  Even our sufferings serve our eternal good.  These remind us not to fall in love with a corrupt world.  In fact, sometimes things get so bad that we find ourselves praying for Jesus to return and to put an end to all of the sin and sorrow.  And isn’t that precisely the prayer we should be praying all the time, even on good days?
     Jesus rules for us.  He does not leave us or forsake us.  He does not forget us or neglect us.  Jesus Christ is still our Savior.  He is still our Immanuel.  He lives to intercede for us.  He comes in his gospel to deliver his mercy and goodness to us.  He has even exalted our humanity so that we will not remain lowly and frail creatures, but will be raised for everlasting glory.  Therefore, the LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)  Nothing can overpower him.  No one can undermine him.  No one shall overthrow his kingdom.  Nothing can undercut his promises.  Therefore, nothing can separate us from him.  Jesus rules forever, and for us. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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