The Gospel: Luke 24:44-53
Jesus said to his disciples, "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 worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Well, as I speak to you this morning I have to admit that I am feeling a good deal of conflict about what the focus of my message should be. I hope that I can capture some of what I am feeling and what I believe needs to be said without preaching three separate and unrelated messages.
So to begin let me say: After the devastating impact of the deaths of so many children in violence this week, on top of other shooting incidents at a coffee shop and a church I certainly recognize that something needs to be said.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German theologian/martyr of World War Two and the Nazis period said: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
I cannot, in the face of this evil situation, say nothing. I need to join my voice to those who lament this situation. That children should die like this is incomprehensible. Now, do I have a solution? I am deeply grieved to say I do not.
The closest thing I can come to, as a response, is something that I saw this week, which I am going to paraphrase: "If I saw someone beating someone with a stick I hope I would have the courage to intervene and speak to them, to seek to understand them and then to help them see the error of their behavior, But I would also take the stick away from them so that they could not continue that behavior."
This is not a simple situation and it is one that demands a response. How do I convey my deep longing for a solution to present itself?
I have to admit that to resort or revert to my normal response of urging us all to seek the Lord and his guidance in prayer seems a little hollow this week.
But, I have to hope that the words of the Collect for Holy Innocents do ring true for us in the face of this lamentable situation
"We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Of course, we should also pray for those who feel the need to exact this kind of horror on their communities. May God in his mercy and grace touch their lives.
Then of course the other major event that I could spend time talking about and honoring this morning is the fact that it is Memorial Day weekend. As an Australian living here in the United States, I have had to learn what Memorial Day is supposed to be about. Memorial Day is set aside as a day on which those who died in active military service are remembered.
I am reminded on this day that peace comes at a cost. I long for peace in our world. I certainly don't want to glorify war and all its devastation and destruction. But I am deeply grateful to those who lost their lives in providing me with the opportunity to live in the freedom that I do experience in my life.
Now, if you had asked me at the beginning of this week what I thought I would be speaking about this morning I would have replied with some certainty: "The Ascension."
Although this event challenges a number of our scientific western/logic, thinking criteria I have to say it is one of the texts that I enjoy digging into and looking for the challenges and applications for our everyday lives.
One of the major points of this event for me is that is the moment that Jesus prepares his disciples, his followers for their role in the promulgation of the gospel. He sets in motion the pattern of commissioning and appointing those who follow him. That pattern, of being witnesses, that has been passed down through the church to our current generation.
Especially when I consider Jesus' words: "You are witnesses of these things."
The word witness is an interesting one, isn't it? It carries all kinds of weight and importance. A witness is someone with an active role in what happens after a particular event has occurred. People turn to the witness and seek to know what happened and how it happened.
Now, there are a couple of different ways that the word witness can be used or understood.
When used as a noun witness could mean:
1. A witness is a person who sees an event, typically a crime or accident, take place.
2. Evidence or proof that is used as a witness to the influence or impact of a person or an event.
When used as a verb witness can illustrate an action:
1.) Witness or see an event, typically a crime or an accident take place.
2.) Witness is to have knowledge of an event or change. To make a personal observation, or to speak about an experience.
So how are we "witnesses" to the events of the Ascension? How are we able to talk about these things to other people? What should we be doing in the world in which we live to share what we know?
In a world that is suffering from the impact of recovery from the Pandemic, the shooting of children, the sacrifice of men and women in our armed forces seeking to keep us safe, and the global impact of the aggression of Russia in Ukraine what do we have to say?
To bring my message to a conclusion this morning I would like to read a section from another passage of Scripture from 1 Peter.
"For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
"Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
1 Peter 3:12-17 New International Version
Are we ready to be witnesses? Are we able to put into words what we know and what we hope for? As it says in the reading from 1 Peter: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."
Or to take the words of our collect for this morning and to apply them to our daily lives:
"Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen."
How are you witnessing today? What are you sharing with others about the hope you have? May we all experience the presence and the power of the promise of the Holy Spirit in our lives this coming week.
Bishops & Father Mike