What is Next in our Lives of Faith?

May 21, 2023

Sermon 5-21-23
Ascension of Our Lord/Confirmation Sunday
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Text: Acts 1:1-11
     What is next in our lives of faith? That’s a good question to ask the seven youth who are affirming their baptisms. We celebrate with you/them as you/they publicly proclaim your/their intention to be a follower of Jesus. You’ll be committing/They have committed to:
Live among God’s faithful people.
Hear the word God and share in the Lord’s supper.
Proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed.
Serve all people following the example of Jesus.
And strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
    So, it’s good to think about what doing so will look like. In fact, that’s something we all should do. That is, ask ourselves what is next in our lives of faith.
     Today is not only Confirmation Sunday, but also the Ascension of Our Lord which takes place 40 days after Easter when the disciples of Jesus probably were beginning to wonder what was next. Today we read about the ascension of Jesus in two places, Luke and Acts. One tells the story at the end of its account, and the other at the beginning. That makes sense because those Biblical books are essentially Volume 1 and Volume 2, written by the same person or team of people.
     In the Acts account Jesus clearly tells them what is next; they were to remain in Jerusalem, waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. However, it seems that was not what they wanted to hear, or at least they wanted to know more. They thought they knew Jesus’ agenda, so they asked, “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Can’t you just imagine Jesus shaking his head and muttering, “This again?”
     They were looking for Jesus to do something for them. After all they had been through, they were still focused on the restoration of their country, the ousting of the Romans. They wanted their view of “the kingdom” to come in their lifetimes. But Jesus is focused not on what he will do, but what they will do by the power of the Holy Spirit.
     It is their witness to the world that matters. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” Jesus says, “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (vs. 8) That was what was next in their lives of faith.
     And then Jesus left them; he ascended into heaven, was lifted up into the clouds. There are many artistic renderings of this event, none of which really speak to me, but there is one that makes me laugh. It’s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a painting by Hans Suss Von Kulmbach done in 1513. In it, the 11 remaining disciples and Mary Magdalene, are staring into the sky and all that is visible is ankles and two wounded feet that seem out of proportion to the rest of the painting. (Perhaps you saw it on our Facebook page.) While the disciples appear in awe, I’m snickering.  
     Anyway…after the trauma and joy of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples had just gotten use to having him around again and, just like that, he was gone. What was next? They were rooted in place, looking up into the heavens, mouths open. What’s next? Maybe that’s us too, today or at some time in our lives.
     Commentator Doug Bratt writes that God’s people now may get caught looking up into the sky. Some may be speculating about when exactly Jesus will return, wondering if increased trouble in the Middle East or disasters like earthquake indicate it will be soon. Others may ask what God is doing for us. They may look up and ask how the Lord’s going to fix their families or finances, or how the Lord is going to give them a spouse or more friends. There are those who look up into the sky waiting for some perfectly clear message from God about what to do in a particular situation. As was already noted, the disciples were wondered when Jesus would restore Israel. (1)
     It quickly became clear that standing there pondering how God would do what they wanted was not the next step. The two divine messengers from the resurrection showed up and continued their tradition of asking obvious questions. On Easter morning it was, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” On Ascension Day it was, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” In other words, it is time to get the show on the road.
     Doing so involved two steps. First, they must wait and pray for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Second, they must start by being witnesses, testifying to what they know and have experienced. God gave them – and us – everything needed to stop standing and looking into the sky.
     So, I’ll ask again, what is next in our lives of faith? Nate, Megan, Sophie, Mason, Quinn, Nathan, Ryder, what is next in your lives of faith?
     What choices can you make so that your faith continues growing? How will you be a part of the ministry of Jesus here at FLC? What ways can God use you to share Jesus’ unconditional love and transform the world? How can you show compassion to those who are suffering? When will you speak up for what is true and good? Those are questions all of us should be asking ourselves.
     A good place to start is where the first disciples started. Pray for the Holy Spirit, which is within you, to empower you. And, think about and then talk about what you know about Jesus and how you’ve experienced his unconditional love. That knowledge and experience are continuing and changing throughout our lives, if we are willing and open to that happening. Just keep asking, what is next in my life of faith? AMEN
  1. “Sermon Commentary on Acts 1:6-14” by Doug Bratt, May 28, 2017, www.cepreaching.org