Ascension Sunday

June 2, 2019


This past Thursday was the fortieth day since Easter and as we read in Luke’s account at the beginning of Acts, “After his suffering [Jesus] presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the Kingdom of God.”

On that fortieth day, Jesus was lifted up, ascending into a cloud and from their sight.  So, this morning we celebrate Kristi Himmelfartsdag, or as we say in English, Ascension Day.  Yet, as important as his bodily ascension to God the Father, is what Jesus said directly prior to his leaving.

As we read, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

And in Matthew we heard Jesus say, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”

These directions, or better yet commands, that Jesus gives to his disciples are best remembered in Christianity as Jesus’ ‘Great Commission.’

The word commission has many varying meanings, but there are two that define what is happening in this situation that I have described.  They are: To grant authority to an individual or group to act as an agent for another, and, to authorize or direct an individual or group to carry out a task or duty.

When Jesus commissioned his disciples, he gave them the authority needed to carry out and fulfill the tasks he had given them as his disciples.  I think the disciples needed to hear Jesus’ words.  They needed to understand that his authority went with them.

Thirteen years ago I was honored to be present and witness the commissioning of a Naval Officer.  Steve, a member of my congregation at that time, had been serving in the United States Navy as an enlisted sailor, and then a non-commissioned officer.  Upon that day he was authorized to take the vow that made him an officer, a Lieutenant, jr. grade in the navy.  It was a very important day in his life for it gave him further duties and responsibilities to fulfill.

Last Sunday was the eighteenth anniversary of my ordination as a pastor, and Emily’s eighteenth ordination anniversary is today.  Our ordinations were another type of commissioning.  We too received authority, in the name of Jesus, to fulfill our duties as pastors to be Jesus’ witnesses in the world, making disciples and baptizing in the name of God; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Like the disciples must have, I felt the weight of a burden of responsibility fall upon my shoulders that day.  For you see, in my Lutheran church body, we cannot be ordained until we have a specific congregation to serve as a pastor.  And so, during my ordination service as I vowed to serve to the best of my ability and then knelt to be prayed over, I could picture in my mind some of the faces of my congregation, and knew that they were now my responsibility.  Jesus’ commission had all of the sudden become very real to me, and is something I still take very seriously.

But, I have also realized that it was not only the eleven apostles whom Jesus commissioned that day, but all of us who would come to believe and follow as his disciples.  Over the years I have prayed over individuals and groups who were setting off on one sort of ministry or another.  Sometimes it was someone moving to another place on the globe to partake in ministry or life, and at other times it was an entire group of people traveling for a short time for a mission trip or a youth conference.    We also pray, each year, for our newly elected Church Council members, commissioning them, we might say, for their new duties and responsibilities.

In these instances above, the church is authorizing people to carry out the task of ministry on its behalf, yet not simply on its behalf but rather on behalf of Jesus Christ the Savior of the world.   This is not some ceremony that we have come up with on our own, but rather, like with many things we do in the church we are following Christ’s example or teaching.

More importantly though, we need to understand that Jesus commissions each of us in our lives to act as his representative wherever we are, and directs us to do his work every day.  In other words, as disciples of Christ we are called and commissioned by our Lord to act on his behalf, to witness in his name always, not just on special occasions.

William Barclay writes, “It was Jesus’ insistence that it was in the hurly-burly and the rough and tumble of life that a person must live out his or her Christianity…Christianity was never meant to withdraw a person from life; it was meant to equip him or her better for life.  Christianity does not offer us release from problems; it offers us a way to solve our problems…it is within the world that his or her Christianity must be lived out.”

The question is, how do we live in the ‘rough and tumble’ of the world, but as one set apart commissioned by Jesus to share God’s love?  That is the question that we not only need to ask each day, but also need to try and answer in our own lives.

Let me remind you though, as you are pondering this idea of being commissioned as Jesus’ disciple to live out his call in your day-to-day life, that Jesus knows you are not some super hero, nor are you perfect, nor can you truly be all things to every person.  Jesus knows you.  You are God’s creation, given certain talents and passions, and not others.  You are not a super-human, but a regular human, and Jesus knows this, so he calls you to live and love with the gifts you have, and as the person you are.

God also know that your life is full, full of joys and sorrows, excitement and monotony, difficulties and ease, temptations and strengths.  The great thing is that it is in the ups and downs of daily life that Jesus calls you to be, to serve, to act, speak, to listen, to care, to give, to forgive and be forgiven.  Life, normal everyday life, that is where we have been commissioned to be and to live.

Think of the story of the apostle Peter from a few weeks ago.  Peter was sitting in the shade napping, waiting for someone else to prepare his lunch, when the Holy Spirit spoke to him, and led him off to teach the Gentiles.  Or, Mary and Martha who are hosting a dinner party and are given the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn.  And, there was Paul who continued to make tents, sewing together shelters even as he traveled and preached.

And there is you, God uses you too.

Perhaps, you listen to a friend on the phone sharing about her struggles with her family, and you offer words of wisdom and support.  Or, you offer to paint the flat of a church member who cannot anymore.  Or, you forgive a co-worker who has publically humiliated you at a meeting.  Who knows how God can, and will, use you in your life?

The most important part of this is to remember that Jesus wants to speak, and act, and work through you, through your gifts, through your passions, in your life.

Ask God each day, “How will you use me today, Lord?”, and then be surprised as you get to live out the answer.  For Jesus always answers prayer!


Bible References

  • Acts 1:1 - 11
  • Matthew 28:16 - 20



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