Sermon Series: A Place to Call Home
Title: “Always Blessing, Always Blessed”
Acts 1:6-11; Ephesians 1:15-16
June 2, 2019
Rev. Sandy Johnson
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen
We have been on a journey since Easter, searching for a place to call home, a place where we belong, a place where we can know and feel the Spirit and presence of God. On Easter morning we began with a gathering of disciples who had seen the empty tomb and had gone to the Sea of Galilee as Jesus had advised before he died.
While there Jesus approached them and introduced them to the idea of “home” reminding them that they will never again be alone. Forever they will be filled with the Holy Spirit and part of the family of God.
Next, we learned that all are welcome, and when we say all, we mean all. We have learned to avoid fear and doubt and to embrace the risen Christ as an open and welcoming presence.
Then we considered that everyone has a place at the table, even our enemies. Jesus teaches us to demonstrate extravagant hospitality and focus on unity in the body, not division.
Our next lesson was, “Always Room for One More.” We learned that God continues to seek us and there is always room for one more believer, one more follower of Jesus Christ, one more evangelist to share the good news.
Last Sunday we are learned how to become a church where love abides, where we can reside in love, where we can share love with our world and be loved in return. Which leads us to today where we consider always blessing, always blessed.
Our story begins after Jesus had spent forty days with the disciples, appearing to them and with them, proving that he was in fact alive. He even demonstrated hunger and asked for a meal. Clearly Jesus was with them and again a part of them.
They were eager for him to restore the kingdom to Israel. They were confused, they thought that Jesus’ reign would be a political feat. They continued to press him about taking control, bringing the Jews into their rightful place as God’s Chosen People.
As much as Jesus had tried to explain that his kingdom was not on this earth, his followers kept expecting something very different. He responds to their request for information about when he would restore the kingdom to Israel by saying,
“It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
We are not to know. It’s God’s business and it’s God’s story to share. The promise of power was again reiterated by the promise of the Holy Spirit which would come to them and transform their lives, and ours, forever more.
Before their very eyes Jesus then floated up into the sky and was hid behind a cloud. Gone. Disappeared.
It reminds me of a time that Leesha and I lit miniature hot air balloons in honor of our siblings who each were battling cancer. She and I met at Veterans Park and we assembled the balloons, lit the packet that would power them and watched the balloon fill up with hot air. Slowly at first the balloon began to rise and until the craft had wings of its’ own and floated toward the heaven.
She and I stood there in silence, watching, afraid to leave before they were out of sight. Have you done that before? Watched something until it was out of sight?
Maybe someone getting on a plane, leaving on a trip or returning to their home far away. We can become transfixed watching the departure, almost stuck in time, waiting and watching the plane getting smaller and smaller until it disappears.
The disciples watched intently as Jesus got smaller and smaller, until he disappeared, and they were interrupted by two men, dressed in white who appeared, standing beside them. On one hand we have Jesus who disappears, and on the other these two men appear and deliver this message:
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Ascension Sunday remembers this dramatic departure. “This is the day in our church calendar when we celebrate the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. In all honesty, the ascension is a rather difficult idea for our modern minds to handle. ” I mean, people don’t just disappear!
“In the first century, the understanding of the cosmos was very different from ours today. People understood heaven to be a place that was literally, geographically, “up” from the earth. ” Most thought that the earth was flat so up was the only direction possible in their minds.
“They could visualize Jesus leaving them and going “up” into heaven. With our scientific view of the cosmos, we know there is no up or down in the universe. Even our notion of heaven is not of a geographical location or direction. When contemporary people think of the ascension, it is a little hard to imagine the Lord Jesus Christ flying off like a one-person space shuttle into the skies.
“Yet, despite our scientific reservations, the story of the ascension is spiritually important to us. The ascension was the church’s way of dealing with a fundamental fact. The earliest disciples had experienced the bodily presence of the risen Lord, the one who was no longer under the claim of death. ”
And then, in front of their very eyes, he ascended into heaven. He had risen, now into heaven. “Christians today have the same circumstance. We believe in a risen Lord who is no longer physically present. The body of Jesus is not here any longer, except in the church as the body of Christ. So, on Ascension Sunday, we do well to think about what Jesus’ physical absence means for Christians today.
“First, the absence of the physical Jesus calls us to take seriously the church as the body of Christ. This is a concept with which we all are very familiar. We say that the church is the body of Christ without thinking about what that might actually mean.
“If the church is the body of Christ, then we are called to give to the church the devotion and respect that Christ deserves. ” We are to embrace the opportunity to be always blessing others and to be blessed ourselves.
“Think about it. How precious to you is our church? How central to your life is our mission? It is easy for us to think that we would respond to the physical presence of Jesus with all the love and devotion we could humanly summon. Yet we often treat the church as just one more volunteer community organization.
“Now civic clubs do good work; health-related charities appeal to us, especially if we have lost a loved one to the disease the charity seeks to overcome; organizations that support our schools do important work.
“But none of these organizations are the body of Christ. Only the church is Jesus among us. Its mission, our mission, is to be consistent with Jesus’ mission. The love we have for the church, is the love we have for Jesus.
“The church is the closest we will ever come on earth to having Jesus to care for and to love. Today, on Ascension Sunday, we are called to reassess our devotion to the church as the physical body of Christ still among us. The risen Lord is not here; he has ascended. The body of Christ is very much here, and the way we treat the church is the way we treat the risen Lord.
“Ascension Sunday also reminds us that we are each, individually, a part of Christ’s body. To honor the church as we honor Christ is also to remember that in a powerful way, we are each a part of this body of Christ. When we neglect our part in the mission of the church, we disable the body of Christ. As Paul said, each of us is a physical part of the body of Christ.
“We are the arms and legs, the eyes and ears; we are limbs and organs of Christ’s present body. When we fail to do our part, the body becomes disabled. Christ becomes disabled without the limb or organ that each of us is called and gifted to be. (See 1 Corinthians 12.)
“The absence of the physical body of Jesus places a claim upon us to relate to the church as we would relate to Christ. It also reminds us that without our individual faithfulness to our role in the church, the body of Christ is weakened and disabled.
“Last, Ascension Sunday reminds us that if Christ’s work is to continue, it is up to us to do it. Now that is not to say we receive no godly help” in blessing others and being blessed. God is always with us, leading and guiding us to fulfill the mission he has laid out.
“Next Sunday is Pentecost, and we will celebrate our empowerment by the Holy Spirit. But this divine help comes to empower us in doing the work of Christ. Jesus is no longer here to heal the sick. He is no longer here to touch the outcast. He is no longer here to feed the hungry.
It is up to us, the body of Christ, to continue this work. If the church fails to be the body of Christ, Jesus is absent. If the church fails to be the body of Christ, Jesus is nowhere to be seen.
“Yes, this is an obscure Christian holiday. It celebrates an event that is difficult for the modern scientific mind to take literally. At the same time, this is a critical day in our personal and collective self-understanding. It is significant that the risen Lord ascended into heaven.
“His ascension invites us to relate to the church as we would to Christ. It reminds each of us of the critical nature of our role in the body of Christ. It calls us to take up Jesus’ work on earth.” 
When we change our gaze from following Jesus up into the atmosphere, and look around us, we see how we are to live out our call to be the hands and feet of Christ. It is when we focus on the people in front of us, who are in need, that we can experience what it is to be a true follower of Jesus Christ.
When we become a blessing and bless others, we find the joy that the disciples had when they returned to the temple worshipping Jesus with great joy.
This week we had the opportunity to do something pretty tremendous. Remember the woman we helped at Christmas? Missy? She and her two children finally have gotten back into their own home. Our church, with help from St. Christopher’s Episcopal, Trinity UMC and several private donations were able to provide the first months rent and deposits needed so that they could move into an apartment that they will call home.
The past seven months have been difficult for them as they lived in a room at a friend’s house. Finally, Missy was able to get a job that will support them. I would be lying if I said she didn’t give up the idea of home along the way. She and I would message often, I would encourage her not to give up, to wait for the right job and the right living situation so that she could finally have her own place, a place to call home.
She is so thankful for this church and that we didn’t give up on her. She is thankful for the help that we have provided and has cried numerous times this week out of gratitude and love for you all. If you would like to also help with her needs, we are still looking for a few more donations to meet the entire amount of her move in costs. Whatever you can give will help.
I also need a few folks to help us to move some furniture into her new home. Chey has donated a couch, Cheryl Sneed has offered many of the household items and furniture from her brother John’s house. I hope that we can take a truck load or two over to her new home and help her to get set up. She could use a TV (that’s the kids asking!) if anyone has a spare.
To be a blessing, always blessing, is to be blessed ourselves. Knowing that this woman will not be on the street again and that through us, God has blessed her beyond imagination and in the process, we are all blessed, knowing that we are part of answering her prayer, that God has used us as Christ’s hands and feet to transform the life of this family.
Well done church!
Well done! Amen.
 Acts 1:7-8
 Acts 1:11