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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
May 10, 2018 at 6:15 PM
Central Passage
Ephesians 1:15-23
Ascension Day

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: May 10, 2018 – Ascension Day

Ephesians 1:15-23


            In our Acts reading, Luke – the same author as the Gospel – tells us that Jesus appeared to his disciples during forty days, speaking about God’s Kingdom. From this description, as well as the various resurrection appearance stories in the New Testament, it seems that Jesus wasn’t with his disciples all the time. He would come and go from time to time. He would appear suddenly on the lakeshore, cooking breakfast for his weary disciples. He would appear as a fellow traveler. He would show up unexpectedly at meals! He would appear suddenly in a locked room. Whatever these appearances of the risen Christ were like, I suspect he wasn’t present in the same, consistent way that he had been before his death. The appearances were unpredictable. Those he appeared to might not recognize him at first. It wasn’t until he “opened their eyes” that they could see him for who he was.


            For a time, Jesus seems to have delayed his final ascension into heaven. He knew that he had to return to God, but once he did, it would re-open the wounds of grief for his friends. They had lost him when he was murdered; they would lose him all over again when he ascended. Perhaps that is why early in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast in those days” (Luke 5:35). From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus knew that he would have to leave one day. He would not be present to the church in the same way he once was. Paul, in 2nd Corinthians, points this out. “Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t the way we know him now” (2 Cor. 5:16).


            The church is in a long in-between time. And it can be uncomfortable to live in such a time. We believe, along with the writer of Ephesians, that Christ has been raised from the dead and is at God’s right hand, far above all other authority and power. But the word we often key in on is “far”. Christ feels far, far away sometimes – far removed from our everyday, ordinary concerns. Sometimes we can feel abandoned by God; left to our own devices; “like a motherless child, a long way from home”, as the spiritual goes. In this long, in-between time, the church has formed into communities of faith, where the memory of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and the hope for his return can be sustained. We hear the word together, we celebrate the sacraments together, we live the Christian life together, proclaiming, as Paul also says, “the Lord’s death until he comes again” (1 Cor. 11:26).


            But through faith, we also know that we are not left alone. Which is why I am grateful for the Ephesians reading today. Paul prays that the congregation at Ephesus would receive “a spirit of revelation and wisdom that makes God known to you.” He prays “that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers.” This power of God, working in, with, through, and even despite us sometimes, is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. It is the same power that raises our weary souls from their exhausted, narcotized slumber, and renews our hope. Though we do not see or hear Christ directly, we have the Spirit of God which makes Christ known to us.


            And just as Christ opened the eyes of those he appeared to on earth, so Christ opens our eyes to recognize him now. He opens our eyes to his presence in the believers with us; at the table before us; in the world around us; inside our own hearts. He is present to us, but it is only because of God’s grace through the Holy Spirit that we are able to recognize him.


            Which should remind us of something. None of us can come to God and apprehend the life, death, resurrection, and continuing presence of Christ with us on our own. Our own powers of reason cannot do it. Our own ability to manufacture feelings of love and comfort and hope and joy cannot do it. Only the Holy Spirit can bring us Christ. Which should be comforting! We cannot come to Christ; Christ comes to us. Even in this long in-between time, where we are waiting and waiting and waiting for Christ’s physical return, he still comes to us through the Holy Spirit.


            Luther famously said in his explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in my Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.” Because of the Spirit, the sure and certain hope of Christ’s return – and our ultimate reunion with him – is kept alive within us. Because of the Spirit, we can, as Revelation says, “be faithful to death, and (he) will give (us) the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).


            God continue to send us the Spirit, to open our eyes to Christ’s presence, and to keep us patient in our hope. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.