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Sermon on Luke 24: 44-56

This morning I have the honor of preaching at my Mentor's church while she take a well earned break.  I'd be lying if I wasn't nervous. Thankfully, I live with an amazing editor so that helps.

I'm using the first story from Peter Rollin's The Ortodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales as an illustration. It didn't seem right to type it into my sermon. The stripped down version is that a man is put on trial for being a Christian. He has all the Christian trappings: regularly attends church, prays, reads scriptures and inspirational devotions, he even writes his own! Yet, he is free to go because there is no evidence that he is living as Christ and the Disciples did, he poses no threat to the status quo. I highly recommend the book. It's filled with wonderful and challenging tales, Rollins' uses the book to state that the scriptures and all our religiosity have no meaning unless we put those words and beliefs into action.

Update:  I left the book at home!!! Luckily I was able to download it in time for the service!

Luke 24:44-56

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Today we celebrate and honor the Ascension of Jesus, this moment in which he openly states that he is the Messiah, the Savior. Jesus proclaims that he has fulfilled the scriptures. However, while he has fulfilled the scriptures there is more work to be done. Jesus ordered the disciples to gather in Jerusalem to wait because he was going to send them power from on high.

Close your eyes. Seriously. Close your eyes and try to envision yourself as one of the disciples there with Jesus. (wait a few seconds)

Jesus says to you, "You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations - starting from here, from Jerusalem! You're the first to hear and see it. You're the witnesses. What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you're equipped with power from on high." We watch in disbelief as Jesus holds out his hands, blessing us, and then floating into the sky until we can see him no longer.

Did you feel it? Did you sense it? What stood out to you?  Really, anyone? Did anything stand out to you?

When I imagine it, I hear those last words ringing repeatedly, “…until you’re equipped with power from on high.” Equipped, if one is being equipped then one is being prepared to fulfill a task. While this Ascension might be the end of Jesus’ earthly work it was just the beginning for the disciples and for us.

The good news is that Jesus didn’t leave them to their own devices to do his work. Nor has He left us to our own devices, to try to figure out what needs to be done here on Earth. Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us strength and courage.

Jesus laid out a vision for us, to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all nations. Jesus wasn’t interested in keeping the Gospel and love of God to a small sect. He wanted the disciples, and now us, to take it to the world.  So what does that look like?

Does that mean we should be holding signs on street corners and shouting “God loves you” at the top of our lungs? Maybe, prophets have been asked to do some crazy things. Or maybe that is not our call.

At Vista Grande in the Springs, we’ve been reading a little book by Peter Rollins called The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales.  I hope you don’t mind me reading the first story from it to you, don’t worry, it’s short.

Ouch!  That story stung…I’ve read it several times now. Each time, I wonder, what would I have to do to live more fully like Jesus? What would it look like to challenge the status quo and have one’s life be a sign of God’s work in this world?

I believe that this is the equipping Jesus was talking about on that day he ascended.  Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit so that we could continue what he had begun on earth. He was asking that we continue in his work of healing, reaching out to the lost, standing up against those who are taking advantage of the powerless, preaching love and grace. It’s more than words; it’s the actions we take once we have experienced that life changing love of God. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect.

It means that we listen to that voice in our head that says to pull over and give someone walking in the rain a ride. Or when we’re in line at the grocery store and the person in front of us starts putting things back because they didn’t have quite enough, so we pay the rest. Or maybe it’s volunteering at the food pantry or riding with Bikers against Child Abuse, or giving your last $5 to the weather beaten homeless person walking across the street.

We live in a society that says we should fear our neighbors but our faith and spiritual guide says to love our neighbor. It means being vulnerable and helping others. Did you know there are cities in which feeding the homeless is a crime? Some places it is illegal to sleep outside. In Colorado Springs they have tried to make sitting on certain sidewalks a crime.

In Philadelphia - the city of brotherly love - it was illegal to help the homeless. But a church led by Shane Clairborne started having “all night church services” in order to avoid getting arrested by the authorities. They were able to create a safe space for homeless people to stay and sleep and maybe experience the love of God.

You have to be vulnerable and it can be dangerous. Look at those three men in Portland, Oregon. Someone was berating and threatening two Muslim women on a train.  Three men stepped in help protect women they did not know.  They only knew that a racist, deranged man was harming them. Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, was severely injured. Taliesin Namkai-Meche, 23, and Ricky John Best, 53 were both killed. They tried to protect two women they did not know.  I can only imagine they would have done the same even knowing the outcome.

I don’t know their faith backgrounds, I’m not sure it matters. This is the kind of act that Jesus would have performed. I hope it is something I would have done also. Even knowing the outcome.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day in which we remember and honor those women and men who gave their lives to protect our nation, to ensure our freedom. What is our freedom for?  What are we free from? I believe that the freedom our fallen soldiers sought to give us, was freedom to be the best nation we can be, free to worship or not to worship, freedom to vote with our intellect and our hearts whether that is for Republicans, Democrats, or some other party. Jesus has declared us free as well.

We have been freed from societal expectations that try to tell us who we are or who we can be. Jesus freed us to be the Good Samaritan. To be like the three men in Portland, stepping in when someone is harming another. He freed us to give the rain soaked man a ride, to offer money to the pan-handler, to pay for someone’s groceries or electric bill.  He freed us to be generous and gracious, not only when it is easy, like bringing canned goods to the food pantry. But also when there is outside pressure to NOT help, like giving money to the man with the cardboard sign, because “he’s only going to use it for drugs”.

Like the disciples, He gave us the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit that is the voice in the back of our head, whispering to us that someone needs help.  The Holy Spirit that is with us when we need to be helpful, but we will need to show our underbelly and be vulnerable.

The Holy Spirit that is with us in the face of great danger. Who is with us when we offer a ride to the woman with no shoes.  And even when we need to be those three men on the bus.  

We have been freed to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Amen.

Benediction: Let us listen to the Holy Spirit, may we have courage and strength so that we may do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Amen.

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