Despite a rather large setback with the whole arrest and crucifixion thing . . . the decision the disciples made three years earlier to follow Jesus was finally starting to pay off.
You see, after Jesus was crucified and it seemed that their whole ministry had crumbled . . . Jesus rose up from the grave and he began showing up all over the place. Sure, it was different than before . . . he was able to walk through locked doors and show off his crucifixion wounds to anyone who needed to see them.
But he was also showing up for meals, participating in road trips, partying on the beach with his disciples and he was teaching them about the kingdom of God.
And by the 40th day, the disciples were busy trying to figure out what this latest turn of events would mean for their lives. They were probably anxious for things to get back to where they left off and with the added resurrection from the dead thing, it seemed like the sky was the limit for their potential popularity.
Once everybody figures out that the Jesus who had walked among them and healed them, fed them, taught them, had now triumphed over the cruel torture of the Roman government . . .
When everyone figured out that he was back it would all change for them; no more shoe string budget, no more sleeping outside, no more amateur speaking circuit. They were headed for the big time!
Now you have to remember that they all suspected from the get go that Jesus was here to really make a big splash . . . to release Israel from foreign domination and to restore the monarchy, political power and prestige of the Jewish people. You know, re-establish the kingdom of God.
So when Jesus led them up that hill over-looking the city of Jerusalem, which is called the city of God and it was where God dwelled and was in community with his people . . . you can imagine the enthusiasm and anticipation in their voices when they asked the question . . . “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom?”
Is it time when God will set things right? Is it time for oppression to end? Is it time for the suffering and troubles of this world to end? In other words, is it time for us to go down there and open up a can on those Romans . . . and for you to become the king and us your nobles?
And Jesus answers, “That’s not your business . . . how God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s vision is fully realized is not your concern. God’s will, will be done on earth as it is in heaven but the how and when is not yours to figure out.”
And with that, Jesus is engulfed in a cloud and they watch in amazement as he’s carried up into the sky. Their necks were bent and their hands shielding their eyes from the glare of the sun as they stared, open mouthed into the sky, “What is going on now?” they must have thought as “poof” Jesus disappears into the clouds.
And they just stand there gazing up at the sky; just absolutely blown away and wishing that he would come back and stay with them.
And then, out of nowhere these two dudes dressed completely in white show up and essentially say, “Don’t worry, you’ll see him again someday”.
But the disciples wanted to see him here, now. Not in some distant far off future. Not in some grandiose exhibition in which Jesus would descend from the heavens in glory and honor. The disciples longed for Jesus to stay with them on that day. Stay with us. Stay with us now.
Jesus was present and now was absent . . . and they were absolutely devastated; what they knew, what they thought, what they understood, and what was familiar was changing.
We’ve all been in that space; that space between familiar and un-familiar. We've all said good-byes to those places of comfort and familiarity in our life and none of them were easy.
Saying good-bye to what we know is hard to do because something deep down in us resists the move from known to the unknown.
But one thing is for sure – we had better get accustomed to saying good-bye to the familiar because life is a series of movements. It’s what makes it interesting and exciting. It’s what makes it better.
But it’s scary.
And it in one of this spaces that we find this group of disciples, caught hearing a good-bye from the Leader, and a friend, and a way of life they had become accustomed to but Jesus has finished his job and it was time for him to return to heaven.
But the story wasn't supposed to go like this. Everything within the disciples, everything they had been taught, everything they had experienced together, and the bond they had created as friends and co-workers had convinced them that Jesus was supposed to stay.
The Messiah they knew was to reign on earth; “Thy will be done on earth.”
But if the promise of the resurrection is forgiveness of sins, what then, is the promise of the Ascension? Hidden between the lines is a promise so great, a promise so enduring, a promise so life-giving, that I wonder why we often miss it.
The promise of the Ascension is that God is with us. We don’t need to beg God to stay with us. We don’t need to gaze at the sky in amazement as we ask, “Where is God?”
For tucked right smack in the middle of our text are these words: “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,"
God sends the Holy Spirit so that we might not be alone in our work on earth. God sends an advocate so that we might be empowered to spread the Gospel to all the ends of the earth. God sends a comforter who is with us in our despair, our loneliness, and our fear. God sends his Spirit to guide us when things change and life is moving.
Jesus was to live on within the community of his followers through God's Spirit; the same spirit that was within Jesus when he began his ministry with these words, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of our lord.”
It’s interesting, Luke, the author of Acts, uses this event to begin the story of the church . . . and I think he did so because the image of those first disciples, crowded together on that mountain top, is a strong representation of the ongoing question of all Christ followers, a question that must be answered over and over again with every generation that dares to embrace the Christian message.
Is this the time when you will come and restore the kingdom? Is this when you are going to make things right in this world? When there are no more mass shootings, no more wars, no more hunger, and no more oppression? Is this the time when the relationships that have been broken by race, gender, and sexuality are finally restored? Is this the time?
And to those early Christians and to us, sitting here in the YMCA . . . who are asking the question, where are you God? Luke is saying . . . God never left, never moved, never said farewell. God simply made an equal exchange.
God is no longer contained to a single person in a single location. By coming into our very lives, God now wants to work through us, giving us the power to live out our faith, to share the Good News, and to grow in our relationships and to grow His church.
By sending us the Holy Spirit he is saying . . . You got this!
We can follow God's Spirit as the Spirit moves among us to give us greater mission, clearer vision, and the power to do what we've never done before.
As we follow the lead of God's Spirit we may also have to risk walking down new paths at times and sometimes those paths take us in different directions.
God has granted us the Spirit of Jesus and that means that we are filled with power to follow in the footsteps of Jesus--to be in joyful mission to a hurting world, not matter where we are.
From the very beginning, Logos Dei Church has been committed to listening to God and seeking out those places where His Spirit was blowing and moving ourselves toward that place so that we can be a part of what of what He is doing in our community.
That’s what brought us to the YMCA. We saw the impact they were making in this community and we believed that God was calling us to partner with them.
The partnership we have had over the past ten years; through the do something good projects, collecting presents for children all over the world through operation Christmas child, launching a Mothers of Preschoolers program, hosting the Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and other community impact projects . . . has been good!
But over the past few months, it was becoming clear that gathering together on Sunday mornings in this place was becoming more difficult as the YMCA was opening their doors earlier and earlier.
We recently learned that they will begin a Sunday morning indoor soccer league in July and in October they will be a fully operational gym on Sundays from 6 AM – 6 PM, which will disrupt our worship gathering and eliminate the space for our children to learn and grow in knowledge of God.
And so, the leadership of Logos Dei has been spending time together in prayer and conversation to listen to God and discern his call for Logos Dei Church.
With a new director at the South Tampa YMCA who brings a passion and vision to make a bigger impact in our community and a strong desire to expand the partnership between the YMCA and Logos Dei Church, we affirmed that God is still calling us to gather in this place.
We decided that to expand our partnership, make a bigger impact in our community, and to grow our fellowship, we needed to move our worship gathering from Sunday mornings to Saturday evenings at 5:30 PM.
- We believe that this change will give us more exposure and a better image as we no longer have to be the church who turns people away on Sunday mornings because “the gym isn’t open yet” to being the church who welcomes people to stay and worship with us after their workout.
- We believe that this change will draw families to our fellowship as we’ve heard over and over how difficult it is to get ready on Sunday mornings.
- We believe that this change will open new opportunities as we interact more with the staff and members of the YMCA.
- We believe this change will position us to expand our children’s and youth ministry programs. In anticipation of growth, we are adding another children’s worker.
I recognize that change is not easy . . . because there’s just something inside of us that resists leaving a place of comfort and familiarity.
But I want you to know that I am incredibly excited about what’s ahead for us and I invite you to join me in the excitement. Next week, at our community meal, there will be more opportunity for you to hear about and talk about this transition.
In the midst of our period of transition, let us on embrace and celebrate the giving of God's Comforter and Encourager.
For we are the people of God, empowered by the Spirit of Jesus.