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This week's sermons:

               Luke 24:44-53  -  A Happy Ending
               John 17:20-26  -  A Strange New Math
              
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Sermon for Luke 24:44-53 - He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” This is what we recite weekly in the Apostles’ Creed. But what do we really know about the Ascension. In the church we spend surprisingly little time on the events of Jesus life following the resurrection, particularly the Ascension.

 

The ascension was that time when Jesus visibly departed from his disciples and came into the presence of God the Father. It represented the culmination of his earthly ministry. The ascension was the day of transition. When the Jesus of the earth became the Jesus of heaven. Interestingly, on no less than four occasions our Lord had foretold this event to the disciples.

 

At first glance then the title of this morning’s message, “A Happy Ending,” may seem somewhat inaccurate. Can there be any more powerful an experience in life than having to depart from somebody you love. You have seen many news stories lately of young soldiers boarding boats and planes leaving behind their spouses, the agony that those two young people experienced written all over their faces. With tears in their eyes they embrace and give a parting farewell. I suppose the hardest thing in the world is to say goodbye to somebody you love.

 

With that in mind you might suspect the story of the ascension to be a rather sad one. Jesus was now going away, never to be seen by the disciples again. We rather suspect that they will turn homeward with heavy steps. How astonishingly then are the words of the Gospel of Luke: And Jesus departed from them. And they returned from Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the Temple praising God.

 

The question I would like to deal with this morning is “What meaning does the ascension have for our lives?” Many of us are willing to affirm a creed and let our faith rest there. Many Christians have in essence done just that but there are many, I feel, who have a need to go on and attempt to translate the biblical material about the ascension into a statement that will be of practical help to us in our daily lives. This morning I would like to share with you three ways in which the ascension has meaning for us.

 

1. First, through it we can learn to depend upon God without being dependent upon Him.

2. Second, the ascension says that heart of life there is mystery.

3. Third, it says that God has resources for each of us that he has not yet revealed.

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Sermon on John 17:20-26 - We have a wonderful mystery to contemplate this morning, and it is summarized in a strange formula. It's not really all that complicated, but it is worthy of reflection for it has implications for our lives together. Here is the formula, an equation, really: 1 + 1 + 1 = One.

 

Rather strange math, isn't it? Well, it's God's math, so let's see how it works.

 

That strange formula really comes from the gospel text for today. For the past several weeks during this Easter season, our gospel readings have come from that section of John's gospel known as the Final Discourse of Jesus. This last speech, if you will, that Jesus makes to his disciples concludes with these verses from the 17th chapter. It is really a prayer of Jesus to his Father in heaven and has often been called the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. In a sense, it is Jesus' last will and testament, his parting shot, his last effort to teach, to exhort, to encourage, to empower his disciples.

 

Now for the math part. Listen to Jesus' words: "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." Did you hear it? 1 + 1 + 1 = One. It's not too difficult, once we understand the parts of the equation. Let's unravel the mystery slowly.

 

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What Is Unique About Christianity?

The story of Jesus sitting and debating the Law with rabbis reminds me of another debate that took place in a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God became incarnate in human form. But someone quickly said, “Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form.” Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead.

Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, armful of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, “what's all this rumpus about?” Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, “We're debating what's unique about Christianity.” “Oh, that's easy,” answered Lewis, “it's....

 

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