This week, we will celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days after Easter, so Ascension Day is always on a Thursday. We won’t gather here on Thursday, so our scripture reading this morning come from a teaching Jesus shared with his disciples at the Last Supper. Jesus wanted his friends to know that even after he was present on earth, they would not be left without the presence of God. Soon, God would share God’s Holy Spirit with the people of the earth – Jesus wasn’t going to live among us embodied in the form of a person, but the Holy Spirit will be constantly present with us.
Hear Jesus’ teaching as it comes to us from the Gospel of John, chapter 14 verses fifteen through twenty-one:
Proclamation of the Scripture John 14:15-21
If you love me, keep my commands.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—
the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Message Witness of Love
The story of Jesus’ ascension is one of the stories from our scripture we don’t cover a lot in UCC churches. In the days and weeks after Easter. Jesus appeared over and over again to his disciples and friends. At first, Jesus’ appearances were unexpected and were amazing miracles. But, after a few weeks, Jesus’ friends and disciples adjusted to them….they may have felt that Jesus would always be around, just showing up in surprising ways and places.
Then, forty days after Easter, Jesus led his eleven remaining Disciples to the town of Bethany. He told them to stay in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t specify when the Holy Spirit would come, he just told them that it was going to come. He then blessed the Disciples, said good-bye, and was carried up into heaven. The disciples watched Jesus disappear and then they returned to Jerusalem.
After they returned to Jerusalem, the disciples got nervous. When we celebrate the Pentecost events in a few weeks, we will recall that the Disciples were hidden away in a room together with the doors and windows sealed shut. Jesus had taught them over and over again that God would send the Holy Spirit to be among them, but Jesus wasn’t specific about when it was coming. While they waited, the Disciples became scared that they were left alone….this group of Jesus’ followers, who lived with Jesus, ate with Jesus, walked with Jesus, who witnessed tons of miracles including the resurrection, and still got sacred when Jesus left them alone. They had a trust problem….a trust problem that lasted until the Pentecost day events when the Holy Spirit arrived and filled them with the breath of God.
Our scripture reading this morning comes from the teachings Jesus shared with his friends at the Last Supper. Even though Jesus was about to face his arrest, trial and execution, he had a lot of things on his mind that he wanted to leave his disciples with. He wanted them to hear, again, that God was going to send God’s Holy Spirit to be among them. Jesus told them this during his ministry years, Jesus told them this at the Last Supper, and Jesus told them this before his Ascension. God was not going to leave them orphaned, all alone, without Jesus. The Holy Spirit of God as coming – Like John reminded us last week – there is no escape from the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is always among us and within us.
The other thing Jesus wanted to impress upon his followers in the teachings we read this morning is that we show that we love God and Jesus by keeping Jesus’ commandments. Jesus says that whoever follows Jesus’ commandments and keeps them will be loved by God and Jesus, and we will be connected to Jesus as we keep the commandments. Our faith is not something that we only practice between 10:15 and 11:15 on Sunday mornings. Our work as followers of Jesus is to love God, to love Jesus, to love other people, and to keep Jesus’ commandments…..all of the time.
Our work is to practice our faith, to keep the commandments, all of the time. And, the Holy Spirit is here among us and within us to strengthen our resolve, to help us as we endeavor to follow the commandments. Which commandments did Jesus emphasize? Jesus wants us to Love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our mind. Jesus wants us to love each other, to love our neighbors, as much as we love ourselves. Jesus wants us to work to control our anger, and to act out of love, not out of spite. Jesus wants us to resist our more unhealthy base instincts, to resist evil that externally attacks us and also the thoughts and desires we have to that encourage us to harm others and ourselves. And, Jesus wants us to love our enemies – not to attack them, not to ignore them, not to tolerate them, but to work to love our enemies.
The Holy Spirit is the part of God that is here with us all of the time, to fortify us, to encourage us, to listen to us, to support us when we are weak or afraid or worried. Nothing we do in this life is done alone because the Holy Spirit of God is here with us. The Holy Spirit of God is a source of comfort and strength for us. We are never separated from God because the Holy Sprit is with us. And, our work is to remember that we are in the presence of God and that we must work to live our faith by treated others with love and respect, with treating ourselves with love and respect, and with treating God with love and respect. We are to love God and to love one another.
Let us do so remembering we are never alone, God’s Spirit is with us. We are motivated by that Sprit to live out God’s love commandment.
Thanks be to God. Amen.