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Sunday after Ascension: Who’s in charge?

At the end of St Luke’s Gospel and in the first chapter of Acts there is a description of the Ascension but maybe it is best expressed by St Paul in his letter to the Philippians.

Paul describes how although Jesus “was in being the very nature of God,” in his humanity he came to us as a servant.

He then describes that by his death and resurrection, “God has exalted him to the highest place,” and that Jesus is Lord, “to the glory of God the Father.”

What is important for St Paul is that this is not something he hopes will happen at some point in the future. This is an event that has taken place. It is a dangerous statement. In his world the Roman Emperor or the local bigwig saw themselves as Lord or in charge.

St Paul is saying in effect they are wrong. Jesus is Lord and his Lordship is universal.

In the recent school service we were looking at the Ascension with the help of a balloon and asking the children to put their hand up when they could see the balloon. The higher it went more people could see it.

The message was that Jesus is no longer restricted by time and place, but is with God and God can be trusted.

Ascension requires an element of trust. I don’t suppose that there has been any time or era in history when there have not been points of crisis and we have had a good few in the last 100 years.

Yet at a time when there are huge issues once again surrounding nuclear weapons and capabilities of certain countries, it is very difficult to have much faith in the wisdom of some world leaders.

The other side of this is that at every point in history there have been many people who constantly work for peace, justice and reconciliation and Martin Luther King used to remind his congregations with the words, “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

No matter how difficult the times are there is still the encouragement to keep the faith and periodically remind ourselves who is in charge.

St Luke describes the Ascension in a beautiful way. As Jesus blessed his disciples “he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven.”

Although Jesus is not physically with them they are not left sad and bereft.

Rather, they went back from Bethany to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually “in the temple blessing God.”

Jesus has not disappeared and he is not absent.

He made a promise that he would never leave us and very soon we will be celebrating Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

One of the things that the Holy Spirit does is to make Jesus present.

In a baptism we are saying that all these things are important. We say that Jesus is Lord, we say that he can be trusted and that he is still with us. There is also the encouragement to be faithful and to follow him.

The lighted candle is a reminder that the light of Christ is something we take with us when we leave the church and stays with us wherever we go.

One of the themes of Ascension and Pentecost is that we are called to carry on his work and do the things that he did.

At the school service I asked the children what sort of things Jesus did.

There was a variety of answers: tell stories, help people, and don’t get angry and not to be afraid.

They all seem like good answers.

This is what Jesus did: he cared for the lepers, the sick and the bereaved. He had a message for those who messed up and were lost, that there just might be a way back.

At a baptism we are encouraged to do the same.

This can seem very daunting as Jesus said many things that can seem hard to put into practice:

“Love your enemies,” “Blessed are the meek,” and “Blessed are the merciful.”

In an age where being happy and looking after yourself are key values from one perspective being a Christian can seem like an open invitation to get walked over.

May be it is more about a life centred on the Christ-like values of faith, hope and love, where you have to trust and see where it leads.

We can put faith in this if we remind ourselves who really is in charge.

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