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Laity Reflection: Called to Be Ascension Witnesses

June 6, 2019
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We are coming near the end of the Easter season in the Christian church year. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles and disciples which begins our season of Pentecost, another amazing and wonder-filled event will be celebrated this Thursday. At the end of the 40 days Jesus spent on earth with his disciples after the Resurrection, he is preparing them for what is going to be happening. As we remember, his disciples still were unsure if they understood what Jesus' mission on earth really was. That is clear from this conversation with Jesus recorded in Acts 1:6: 6  So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” At least some of them still had it in their minds that Christ's kingdom was earthly power to overcome Israel's adversaries. But Jesus gently continues, (vs 7-9), 7  He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9  And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (ESV) There are many parts of this scripture we could spend time studying, but three stand out for our considering today. First, in verse 8, Jesus reminds them that when he is gone, the Father will send the Holy Spirit into each of them, so that they will understand and be able to speak on Jesus behalf. Even though the Holy Spirit has been in Biblical events, this is a new way the disciples would experience this power. The Holy Spirit worked with their spirit to understand the work of Jesus. They would become strong and bold enough to proclaim Jesus as Lord to the people around them and to experience Jesus' power to be able to do miracles in connection with proclaiming the gospel. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, they were invited to begin where they were. For the disciples, this was in Jerusalem. But it didn't stop there. His instructions continued to include all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. It sounded daunting and impossible except we know there is more to the story. At Pentecost, in a few more days, those same disciples, many of them simple men and women, like you and me, would be filled with Jesus' power through the Holy Spirit and boldly proclaim God's word to people from all over the world in their own languages. Talk about a powerful miracle! But that takes us to the Pentecost story. Today, we continue this scripture with the scene of the disciples watching as Jesus blesses them and ascends into a cloud and disappears from view. Let's listen to it from Luke's perspective in Luke 24:44-53. 44  "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 and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46  and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47  and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48  You are witnesses of these things. 49  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” 50  And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52  And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53  and were continually in the temple blessing God." That leads us to the second step in being ready to fulfill Jesus' commission. Like many prophesies in scripture, those present do not always understand until after the event takes place and in God's timing the understanding comes. What the disciples did and we are called to do in the meantime, until understanding is revealed to us, is to read scripture and be in prayer. Then we receive that wisdom, knowledge, the gifts and spiritual power to witness to what we know about God and how we have seen Jesus at work in our lives. The Holy Spirit was equipping them for the third step. Jesus was handing over the baton to them. They were to carry on his work as witnesses. Just what is a witness? It actually has two separate, but related meanings. In the beginning, if I see something, I am witnessing it happen. I am watching and paying close attention to the event, so I can remember it. The other side of witnessing is when I need to tell someone about it. As I interpret what I have seen, I am witnessing to them about what I saw. This is what Jesus was commissioning his disciples to do. They were present with him for the many miracles he had performed, and the fulfilling of Old Testament prophecies. They watched his bold and determined entry into Jerusalem to fulfill God's plan to make a way for his sinful people to be forgiven and be holy enough to be in the presence of the sovereign and perfect God. They had witnessed Jesus' ministry and were about to be equipped to interpret those events correctly with the direction of the Holy Spirit. That applies to us, too. We can begin with those who are near us, our family, friends, co-workers & others God brings into our life-circle. It is not by our power and strength nor by our courage and knowledge that we are called to tell Jesus' story of love and redemption. We, too, are not expected to be able to live and transform others into followers of the Easter-risen Christ by our power. Jesus' invites us to know that his Holy Spirit can be the spark within us that transforms us from the meek, hesitant, shy and flawed followers we are, to bold, inviting Christians telling His holy story. As we grow, we are changed and become ascension witnesses!

W – watch I – interpret T – tell N – near (start near us) E – earnestly (humbly, honestly, sincerely) S – Spirit-filled (not by our power) S – Son of God power E – expand further into the world S – so, go and be witnesses!

In the grace, Spirit and love of Christ, Carolyn Moe



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