Joy Rising

Link to recording of live-streamed service: https://fb.watch/dcyg0pQs_C/

Meditation onLuke 24:44-53

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

May 22, 2022

Ascension of Our Lord

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, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 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 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 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.”

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

I went to lunch with PW this week at Old Street. Who was there with me? Are we allowed to say? Is it a secret?

It was fun. We laughed a lot—the Early Bird Circle and me. I could feel our joy rising, moment by moment.

I don’t remember everything we talked about—which is fine because we already promised that whatever happens with the Early Birds stays with the Early Birds—unless it’s just about me. Then, it can be sermon material.

 The group is helping me get acclimated to the area. They told me where to go for grocery shopping and restaurants. We are thinking about riding the ferry together to Cracker Barrel and the Pez Factory. When we talked about how much the ferry would cost, I suggested we ride together all in one vehicle. Like a clown car!  

  They were sympathetic when I told them how I had got lost one afternoon coming home from the church at rush hour. I tried to find a short cut and avoid this congested intersection. I made a wrong turn or missed my turn and went too far.

 I saw beautiful, shady parks, ball fields, the hospital, housing developments, stores, schools, and more. I was on a Smithtown tour. One of the ladies asked where I was when I got lost. I said, “I don’t know. If I knew, I wouldn’t have been lost.”

We had a great laugh about my confusion.

In actuality, I wasn’t far from the church. I just didn’t know which way to go—and I didn’t have a map or my phone, so I couldn’t rely on GPS.

You know what I did when I realized I was lost? I prayed. And then I stopped and asked for directions from a nice lady named Nelly at CVS. Is it true that men never ask for directions?

Friends, so much is new for me and you. It’s not just the technology of hybrid worship; it’s a new world. Do you ever feel anxious or disoriented? Worried about the future? The painter in our home talked with me about an aging, struggling Presbyterian Church that he grew up in. He was worried about the church’s survival—how it had declined.

He asked, “What are you going to do to rebuild your church?”

I didn’t have the answer he wanted. I could tell by his face. He wanted a particular strategy—you know, like a CEO has a business plan. That’s not how the Church of Jesus Christ works. We operate and thrive on FAITH. We trust in what we do not see. But we aren’t passive. We are active servants, workers of the Lord.

I told him that I would reach out to people with the love and grace of God—those who are in the church now, those who used to come often but haven’t been in a while, and those who will be visiting us. Because I know that more people will come. Christ’s desire is to build His Church—and to use us to do it.

We are in an important time of transition as a church as we grow accustomed to life with the virus. Someday, we will look back and tell the next generations about what happened during the pandemic—how we continued as Christ’s Body for the world, even when we couldn’t gather in person and had to wear masks! They will shake their heads in amazement at all the hurdles we faced as a church in this society—and all that we learned about ourselves—and the faithfulness of the Lord who led us to endure and overcome.

In those early days after Jesus was crucified—and there was an empty tomb–his closest friends, who had shared in Christ’s ministry for 3 years, didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, the ministry was over. Or so they thought. But the Church’s work had only just begun.

Thinking about our future ministry together—and all the possibilities, where we will go, what we will do, who we will meet, and lives that will be changed, including our own—I feel my joy rising.

***

Today in Luke’s gospel, we are with the disciples during an important transition for the ministry. Christ is risen from the dead, only to be leaving them again. He is passing the torch to his first followers on earth, with the promise that he will come back.

This is a critical time.

What if his followers had just given up, right then, when they saw him lifted up into the sky? What if they had just taken off—and hightailed it home, as if the last 3 difficult years of ministry with Christ had never happened?

The Lord has some last-minute instructions, just before he is carried up into heaven from Bethany, lifting his hands, blessing them as he goes. He repeats these detailed instructions for their benefit—and for us and all the generations of followers who will be listening in. Because sometimes it takes hearing something more than once before it sinks in. Sometimes it takes hearing it, seeing it, experiencing it with all your senses, and writing and talking about it—and then years later, it all becomes crystal clear.

Jesus says:

  1. “everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
  2. “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day and
  3. repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 
  4. YOU ARE WITNESSES OF THESE THINGS.

Number 5 is the most important instruction, with 3 parts. Jesus says,

  • I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city (Jerusalem) until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

What’s coming, friends? The Holy Spirit that will bring thousands of souls in one day to repent, believe, receive forgiveness, and become the Church of Jesus Christ. The Spirit will bring new understanding and insight—and this will be the power that will strengthen them—and us—to the end.

    When the Lord disappears from their sight, the disciples return to Jerusalem to worship and wait expectantly. They make a choice. They choose not fear and disbelief. They choose GREAT joy and faith. The mission to all the nations begins in the Holy City, just as Christ said.

    The book of Luke ends with them gathering continually in the temple, blessing God, waiting patiently for all that the Lord has said to come to pass.

     And for their joy to rise some more.

***

 This is where Luke leaves us—with a reminder of the importance of our patience while we wait on the Lord, no matter how our situation and the world around us may change. The words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians when he was in prison come to mind, saying in chapter 4  how he has learned the secret of contentment. “I can do all things through him,” he says, “who strengthens me.”

   Like the first disciples, we have a choice every day. We can choose fear and disbelief and complain about things that don’t go as we expect them to or want them to go. Life is unpredictable, Amen? But God’s love is everlasting and unchanging. We can always count on that.

     And we can, instead, like the first disciples, choose joy and faith. We can believe that the Spirit is at work in us and through the witness of our lives, bringing new understanding to the Scriptures as we study them in our place and time and through the lens of our life experiences.

    Although I don’t know how the Lord plans to use us to build up the Church, I can see your kindness to one another, reaching out to people you haven’t seen in a while and those who have been sick. By this you are bearing witness to your faith in the Risen and Ascended Christ, who promises to come again! We want to be ready, dear friends! We want to be found faithful when he comes!

    Don’t miss an opportunity to gather formally and informally with your co-laborers in the Kingdom. Eat, laugh, and learn together. Pray for your church family. Look for ways to serve together. There’s nothing better than shared mission to grow enthusiasm and passion in our congregation and to be a light for Christ in our community!

      Don’t miss the blessing of giving of yourself and doing good—and being a listening ear, bringing the peaceful presence of Christ to someone in need.

    The mission that started in Jerusalem starts here in Smithtown for us, where we are equipped, encouraged, and sent out to travel near and far—maybe even by ferry in a clown car!

   Joy rising!

Let us pray.

Gracious and loving God, thank you for the joy of the Ascension and the joy that we experience in your holy presence, as we are now. Thank you for the promise that you are always in our midst, when we gather in your name, lifting one another up in prayer, wherever we are. We ask that you continue to bring us back together, bind us together, make us one, and lead us on the right path to passionate ministry—loving and serving you and our neighbors. Draw us nearer to our Good Shepherd and deeper into the fold. In the name of our Ascended Savior and Triune God we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Rory, a standard poodle.

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