Ascension Sunday: God's Power is Love
I will be away next Sunday because I will be at a conference in Pittsburgh called Reimagining Faith and Community Engagement in the 21st Century. I am excited for all I am going to learn and for all I will be able to share with you once I have time to digest it.
We are continuing to follow the lectionary texts for the next several weeks. This morning in the Presbyterian Church in Canada we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. In our assurance of pardon I (and the kids) say, “Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us…” After Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared to the disciples and then He ascended into heaven. He went up and became king. From there, Jesus is present with us, everywhere, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The word for that is the ubiquity of Christ. Because Jesus is ascended, He is everywhere by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s...pretty powerful. But, is that what it’s about? Power?
Well let’s look in our Scriptures this morning to find out. The end of our Ephesians passage does talk about Jesus’ ascension and Jesus’ power, but why? The key is in the beginning in verse 15, where it says, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason…” I remember you in my prayers and pray that you would know God’s power. This means that knowledge of God’s power is based on love. Love is the foundation that we need in order to understand God’s power. God’s power is not power for the sake of power. God’s power is Love. God’s power is only manifested in and through Love. Jesus’ ascension is because of Love and for Love, and yes He has power over ALL, but Jesus is all-powerful for LOVE. And that should make us stop and think. Because we assume that when we have power we can do whatever we want. But that is not the way of Jesus. Jesus is all-powerful...to love.
Whenever I think about the ascension of Jesus, about the ubiquity of Christ, the fact that Jesus is everywhere by the power of the Holy Spirit, the same story always comes to my mind. There was a little boy whose mother died. And he was sitting by himself on a chair in the hallway in his house outside of her room. He was very sad. And there were a lot of adults coming in and out, paramedics, family… All of sudden a man came and sat down next to him and talked to him. I don’t know what was said, but the presence of the man brought comfort to the little boy in his deepest moment of grief. The little boy asked him who he was, and the man said, “I am Jesus.” And then all of a sudden, he was gone. That is what the ubiquity of Jesus gives him the power to do. The ascension makes Jesus all-powerful to love us. God’s power is love. Jesus’ ascension gives Him the power to be everywhere, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in order to guide us and show us God’s amazing love.
We see in our John passage this morning that love is key to who Jesus is and to who we are in Christ. In verses 12-13 of our John passage this morning, Jesus says this: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay one’s life down for one’s friends.” Jesus demonstrates the power of God’s love through the cross. He commands us to love one another and demonstrates how to love by going to the cross. Christian love involves self-sacrifice. BUT, it is not a self-sacrifice that leads to death, but a self-sacrifice that leads to new life. The cross never has the last word. The cross is always followed by resurrection and ascension. The goal of self-sacrificial christian love is not the sacrifice itself. The goal is the journey through it to new life. When we follow Jesus, the power of God, the love of God, gives us the strength to take up our cross and follow Jesus through death to resurrection.
In our John passage this morning in verse 15 Jesus says he doesn’t call us servants, but he calls us friends. That’s because servants support the master in the masters work. But friends do the work together. We follow Jesus; Jesus went to the cross. That means that we are going to go to the cross, and when we go to the cross, we know, because of the ascension, we know that Jesus goes with us. God’s love gives us the power to go to the cross, get through it, and continue the journey to new life. God’s power is love. God’s love strengthens us through any storm. God’s love strengthens us to carry any cross, and brings us through the valley of the shadow of death until we find new life again ... and even to an ascension of sorts so that we rise above all the pain and suffering so that it no longer has power over us. This is what God does for us, and what we, as Christ-followers, are called to do in the world.
Last week we talked about living the love of God. What does it look like to bring God’s love into the world? What does it look like to live the love of God in society? Our role in society is often to help people bear their cross and make it through hardship to new life. This means that living the love of God often means doing justice in society, lifting up the lowly, helping the poor and the oppressed, taking situations of death and working with God to transform them into new life. God’s love often manifests itself in society through justice. What might that look like?
Well, I want to share an example with you. This happened in the mid-1800’s in Canada, when African slaves from the United States were escaping to Canada as refugees. Many white Canadians did not want blacks living in their towns and did not want the children of black slaves in the same schools as their own children. In that context, this is what happened. This whole story is quoted from the book North Star to Freedom, by Gena K. Gorrell (pg. 127-9).
“In 1849, an Irish-born minister named William King persuaded the Presbyterian Church to create a black community near Chatham, Ontario. Edwin Larwill, an influential local merchant, fiercely opposed the plan, telling the townspeople that blacks were inferior and irresponsible and that the town would suffer from their presence. Larwill organized a vigilante committee, and King was warned that his life was in danger, but he refused to back down. When he made a speech in Chatham to defend his plan, a dozen armed black men stood guard around him. Only one other white man, Archibald McKellar, stood beside King as he faced the booing crowd.
“The settlement received money from Presbyterian churches, but it was the settlers who did all the work. Starting in the winter of 1849, each family built a sturdy log house with a picket fence; together they cleared the land, opened the roads, and dug drainage ditches. When spring came, they planted vegetables and flowers, and started crops of hemp, wheat, and tobacco. To earn money for supplies, they worked on construction of the nearby railway.
“By the summer they had built a small post office, and a school that also served as a church. Within a few years they had plenty of farm animals, a brickyard, two mills, and a country store. Teachers from Knox Presbyterian College in Toronto included Latin and Greek in the school program, and white students flocked to enroll. Elgin had the best school for miles around, and its black graduates would become doctors, teachers, lawyers, and public officials.
“The Elgin settlement was important for the good start it gave to many ex-slaves and their children. But it was also important because it proved that the Larwills of the world were wrong. Given half a chance, the people fleeing slavery would be responsible, hardworking, successful, citizens - and their children would take their places in every level of life.”
I love this story because it clearly shows how Presbyterians helped an oppressed minority bear their cross, through the journey of hardship through to new life. King and McKellar were courageous enough to live the love of God through justice even though their friends and neighbours opposed them. They and the Presbyterian Church gave a chance to people who otherwise had no chance. They gave people considered inferior the benefit of the doubt, and through their courage and generosity, transformed their lives for the glory of God. Would that we would have the same courage today. ...
The Ascension of Jesus makes Him all-powerful, but God’s power is Love. Jesus’ ascension makes him present with us in all we do. Jesus helps us bear our cross, through the hardship and through to new life. Likewise, we are called to help others bear their cross, through the hardship, and through to new life. We are called to live the love of God in society by doing justice. Amen.