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7th Weekend of Easter (A/RCL), May 27 & 28: "The Holy Spirit's Gift of Dynamite"

Seventh Weekend of Easter (A/RCL): "The Holy Spirit's Gift of Dynamite"

Acts 1:6-14

May 27-28, 2017

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

            Dynamite.  “You will receive dynamite when the Holy Spirit has come upon you….”  How explosive!  We heard in the first lesson from Acts, ““You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you….” but the Greek word for “power” is dunamis, from which we get the English word dynamite.  So this week before Pentecost let’s not underestimate the impact of the Holy Spirit’s arrival!  And let’s be curious and prayerful about what we’re supposed to be doing with the spiritual dynamite entrusted to us. 

            The problem is we probably associate dynamite with demolition, or sabotage, or violence.  So let’s flip that switch in our brains from destruction to construction, from blowing something up to building it up, from destroying something old to creating something now.  Now hold that thought.

            Last Thursday was Ascension Thursday.  That’s why the Paschal candle isn’t lit today; our tradition is to extinguish that flame on Ascension Thursday when we hear that :

[Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  (Acts 1:9)

Our lectionary repeats the lesson from Acts this weekend, so nobody misses it.  We also remember and proclaim this part of salvation history whenever we pray the Creed:

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven….

But so what?  What’s the meaning, the import, the honest-to-goodness difference that Jesus’ ascension to heaven is supposed to make in our lives?

            If you have no idea at all, think about the question the “two men in white robes” ask the apostles who are standing there with open mouths as Jesus disappears into the heavens:

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  (Acts 1:11)

They remind us of the “two men in dazzling clothes” who quizzed the women on Easter morning:

Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, when he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”  (Luke 24:5b-7)

            Truth be told, we want heavenly messengers to affirm what we’re doing and thinking and saying, but inevitably they challenge us, surprise us, require us to move us beyond business-as-usual, to take a leap of faith and explore uncharted and scary territory. You’ve heard it before: God’s Word comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, and by-and-large we fall in the category of comfortable.

            Back to “dynamite”: here are a couple important take-aways for us from the story of our Lord’s Ascension. 

·         After Jesus leaves, it’s not a matter of “out of sight, out of mind.” The risen and ascended Lord hasn’t retired or fled; He’s seated at the right hand of the Father, sending power from on high so that we can be His witnesses.  His ministry continues after His earthly departure, through us.  The holy power at our disposal is strong and effective.  Harnessed properly, prayerfully unleashed, it is spiritual dynamite enabling God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

·         Jesus ascends out of the disciples’ sight, but they and we are never out of His sight.  He has ascended to the right hand of the Father where He intercedes for us, as we read in the letter to the Hebrews.  The outcome of the ministry we perform, the kind, compassionate, courageous ways in which we serve all of God’s children, will amount to more than the sum of our efforts.  We are empowered from on high.  In St. John’s Gospel Jesus says to His friends:

“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you….”  (John 16:7)

            Earlier in the first chapter of Acts, we read that:

After [Jesus’] suffering he presented himself alive to [his followers] by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  (Acts 1:3)

The kingdom of God is wherever and whenever God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, whenever and wherever we ask, “What would Jesus do?” and faithfully follow through.  In the kingdom of God people are valued not because of what they produce or according to “what they’re worth” in a monetary or social sense – people are simply valued because they are.  That’s an increasingly countercultural belief.

            A friend recently sent me a newspaper article entitled, “The Bishop Who Took on the Führer.”1   It’s about Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, the Bishop of Münster, who was nicknamed “the Lion of Münster.”  He preached in 1933 against a Nazi decree that churches should teach about the “demoralizing power” of Jews, and in 1941 when he preached against the Third Reich’s Aktion T4, a “program of involuntary euthanasia targeting ‘lives unworthy of life,’ in the Nazis’ phrase,”2 including the physically and developmentally disabled.  Galen preached:

“Poor human beings, ill human beings, they are unproductive, if you will.  But does that mean that they have lost the right to live?  Have you, have I, the right to live only so long as we are productive?”  The Nazis couldn’t erase “Thou shalt not kill,” he said, because it was written on the human heart.3

Bold Bishop Galen was placed under house arrest in the same year that he powerfully preached this, and would have been hanged except for the government’s fear that the faithful in Münster would raise a ruckus if he were killed.  How could he or anyone take that courageous stance apart from receiving power from on high??

            Faith is power from on high.  Education is power.  Citizenship is power.  Jesus imparts power from on high, and deputizes us to continue the ministry He began.  He calls us to be a voice for the voiceless, to advocate for the vulnerable, to feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit the sick, welcome the stranger, encourage the despairing, which we’re called to do locally, nationally and internationally.   

So why is the story of our Lord’s Ascension relevant in 2017? How should it shape our lives?  St. Teresa of Avila reinforces one of the Ascension’s main take-aways:

Christ has no body now but yours,

no hands, no feet on earth but yours.

Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet on which He walks to do good.

Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world…..

May we prayerfully long for power from on high.  May our ministry in Christ’s name be a faithful continuation of His own.  May our message to the world affirm the worth of all people.  May we act with the courage of our convictions.  When our Lord returns in glory, as He promised, may He judge us faithful and affirm what has happened on our watch.  Amen

            1Sohrab Ahmari, “The Bishop Who Took on the Führer,” The Wall Street Journal, Friday, May 19, 2017.

            2Ibid.

            3Ibid.

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham