May 20, 2012

Sermon for May 20

God Exalted
Psalm 21, 1 Peter 4:7, John15:26
Sunday after Ascension
May 20, 2012

"Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The Sunday after Ascension has two major themes. First is the exaltation of Christ. He came to earth in deep humility in which He was "touched by our infirmities." He knew hunger, thirst, weariness, and what it means to live with the constant knowledge of the inevitability of death. He even knew death; not just death, but the horrible death by torture of crucifixion. He knew all of this by experiencing it Himself, yet He lived in complete righteousness without sin. His resurrection is His victory over His enemies. Men and devils did their very worst to Him, yet He rose from the grave as easily as we rise from our beds at morn. But the Ascension is His exaltation. The Ascension is His return to His place in Glory, His ascent to His Throne. The Bible talks about Him as being seated at the right hand of the Father. This is the place of highest honour and glory. There is no award or prize or honour anywhere to compare with this, for it means He is recognised and received by God as God. He will remain on the throne of glory until His enemies are subdued forever and the whole creation honours Him as Lord and God. He came to earth as a Servant. He returned to Heaven as God. Thus, the exaltation of Christ is the first theme of today's message, and it is the reason we remember the Ascension of Christ.

Expectation is the second theme of the Sunday after Ascension. We, who belong to Christ live in the expectation of His return. The words of the Apostles' Creed are no mere words to us; they are the expression of a conviction that is at the core of our faith; "The third day He rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead." The Nicene Creed gives His Return more emphasis, saying, "He shall come again with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end." 1 Peter states that "The end of all things is at hand." His words refer to the Return of Christ, when He will end the physical universe of material, space, and time as we know and understand it. All will be changed, rolled up as a scroll, consumed by fire, and replaced by a new cosmos and a new earth in which we shall walk with Christ by sight rather than by faith. For He will be with us, and we will be with Him in Paradise. This is a major part of our expectation today. We expect these things to happen just as we expect the earth to make a complete revolution every twenty-four hours.

In the mean time we live in another expectation. We live in the expectation of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. When Christ spoke the words recorded in John 16 and 17 the Holy Spirit had not been given in the same sense that He came on Pentecost. So the men who were soon to become Apostles were being told to expect the arrival of the Spirit. The Spirit would be their teacher, leading them in the truth and enabling them to understand those things Christ had taught them during His three year ministry and during the forty days after His resurrection. It is incredibly important for us to realise that our Lord did not just leave earth after His resurrection. He stayed with the disciples for an intense time of instruction in the doctrines and practices He intended them to teach and establish in His Church. One of the most important aspects of the work of Christ on earth was the formation of the Church, which the Bible calls both His Body and His Kingdom. He gave instructions about the organisation, structure, doctrines, practices, and sacraments of the Church, and He commissioned the disciples to become the Apostles, to found the Church and to establish it firmly upon the teachings and directives He gave. And we clearly see in the New Testament and in the Post Apostolic era that the Church worshiped liturgically and was led by bishops, presbyters, and deacons.

The Holy Spirit is given to the Church. I do not mean to imply that individual Christians are not baptized in the Holy Spirit. That would be like saying a house is built of clay bricks but the individual bricks have no clay in them. But the Spirit is given to the Church and lives in the Church. This is an important point because many people have separated themselves from the Church while claiming to have the Spirit, or, even to be led by the Spirit to leave the Church. It is sadly true that most of the organisations that call themselves "church" are very far from the teaching and practice of Christ, and all true Christians must "come out from among them." Likewise, all true Christians must align themselves with the true Church whenever possible, even if they have to be the only member of the parish in their area and communicate with the rest of the Church by mail or internet. But all true Christians endeavour to be active members of the true Church.

But these points are asides. The real point I want to express today is this; all who are in the true Church by faith in Christ, have the Holy Spirit. There is no need to speak in tongues, or work miracles as "proof" that you have been "baptized in the Spirit." Growing faith, diligent use of the means of grace, and holy living are the proofs that you are in Christ's Spirit, and Christ's Spirit is in you. Therefore, we expect the Holy Spirit to lead us into the things of God through the means of grace. You can expect the Holy Spirit to lead you into the Bible, lead you into private prayer and public worship, lead you into the Church, lead you into the sacraments, and lead you into God. This is part of our expectation today.

There is yet another, and very important expectation we remember today; the return of Christ for us. I do not refer here to the Second Coming. I refer to the moment when we pass out of this material world into the world where spiritual things are more real to us than material things are now. I refer to that event we call death, when our souls go into the immediate presence of God and we see with our own eyes the glory and love and power and grace of the Almighty as He welcomes us into His presence forever. This is our expectation as we gather before Him in worship on this Sunday after Ascension.

"O God, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen."

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