ASCENSION DAY “Cheerful, Mature, Children of God”
Sunday, May 29, 2022 Ephesians 1:15-23
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ
The 2nd reading for The Festival of Ascension from Ephesians 1 is Paul’s prayer for God’s people = including us; and his language is like that of an excited child. He expresses a couple of important truths about our Lord’s Ascension: One= Jesus didn’t really leave us; but He rules over all things for us, from heaven’s high throne. And Two= since Jesus ascended into heaven, we will follow; for He promised that we will be with Him.
Listen again to Paul’s enthusiastic language. He prays …. (Read vs.17—23)
With a mature faith, Paul has the delight of a child. Let’s consider this child-like point of view. Normally, our childlike-wonder dims in the realities of age, and experience with sin. But with the Ascension, we see our truest & best Friend ruling in heavenly glory, with every intention of bringing us along. Therefore, we are in line for a promotion-in-life that makes the world’s best things seem like child’s play.
One of the great things about kids is their sense of imagination & wonder. When they play, they play the parts of kings & queens, army generals, & pro athletes. The tree house becomes a castle; the back yard becomes a jungle; the front yard is the stadium where Curt Cousins throws a TD pass to Adam Thielen. The basement rec-room becomes a theater to reenact a movie scene. That’s the way it is with kids: /children dream big, /their imaginations run wild, /they think about extreme possibilities, /and the sky’s the limit.
But, as we get older, reality starts to kick in. We think, ‘Hmm, the odds that I’ll play for the Vikings is starting to look pretty slim.’ As you climb the ladder of your chosen career, one day you see that you’ve probably gone as high as you’re going to get; and from that point on, you do your best just to hang on. The same reality applies to health. For a time, you grow in height & strength, but then it becomes a matter of maintenance; & then, you’re only ‘looking pretty good …for your age.’ So it seems the further along you get in life, the less you ‘dream big’, the less wild your imagination, and the sky’s out-of-sight.
Now, this isn’t all bad. With age & time can come wisdom & true satisfaction; and adults must live in reality.
As we mature, we learn that it doesn’t really matter if you become a pro-athlete, or the CEO. You realize that the best things in this life are much more simple: /like good friends, /godly family, /& faithful church. There’s no need for lavish feasts, or a million-dollar home. A simple meal with loved ones will do just fine. Thanks be to God for mature thinking, & the simple gifts. As Paul says to Timothy: ‘godliness with contentment is great gain.’ (1Tim.6)
But while a good perspective on reality is essential, we should never completely lose some childlike sense of adventure & wonder, because it’s a part of our faith in Christ. Both life, (esp the future), and God, hold quite a bit of mystery for us. That mystery leaves room for a certain kind of delight & awe. Our lives, & our life-together-in-faith, isn’t meant to be all a dreary trudge toward death. The changes in life that God gives us have goodness as well; each day is a little different than the previous; and is another day closer to His kingdom. The Lord has even promised that if we’ve gone off in the wrong direction for a while, He helps us stop & make a U-turn by repentance & forgiveness, & gets us back on a better track.
So, by this faith in Christ, there’s no reason to give up dreaming big; thinking that we ‘peaked’ when we were young, & everything’s downhill from here. The Holy Scripture informs us that, in fact, the best is yet to come; the future God speaks of sparks our imagination. God is able to help us endure trials & troubles now, because His eternal promise is held out in front of us, & it exceeds our biggest dreams. Life now changes and is a challenge; but nothing can take away from us that goal & prize on the other side of heaven’s door.
All of this is a struggle for us to keep in balance. As believing, Scriptural, Lutheran Christians we are to be ’childlike’ in our faith, but not ’childish’. Jesus said we are to be as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves. We need to acknowledge hard realities, AND we need to keep in mind the hope & delight of the wonders to come.
So, taught by the perfect Scripture, we don’t harbor any illusions. Fallen human nature is reality; and on this side of the grave, it’s never going to improve. Our most wonderful technologies have led to terrible evils & wicked morals. It doesn’t matter how many laws we pass, or how many self-improvement books we read, we’ll never rid ourselves of our own sin & selfish inclinations; and the unbelieving world will be even worse. As measured by God’s Law, we are condemned; poor, miserable sinners, threatened by death & hell.
The good that we want to do, we often neglect to do; and those sinful habits that make us feel dirty & guilty, we end up repeating. It’s frustrating to balance our ugly realities with being the carefree & cheerful children of God.
But our frustration & guilt are not strong enough to drown-out God’s own promise of rescue in Christ Jesus. God keeps a bit of child-like innocence & wonder mixed into our Christian reality. And that is included in Ascension Day. It’s the day we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ not only rose up from physical death, but has also arisen into heaven, and has been crowned the King of kings & Lord of lords. ‘Why is that such a big deal?’, we wonder ‘I mean, of course Jesus is the King; he’s the Son of God. We know that.’ But it’s one thing to ‘know’ that truth; it’s another to confess -with Paul- the confidence that this truth changes our outlook, and changes our lives.
We celebrate Ascension Day remembering & rejoicing that the One who rules is one of us. Our Brother, Jesus-of-Nazareth, has been promoted to the highest office. Not only that, He knows us, and will never forget us = in fact, He favors us! A member of our own family has climbed the ladder to the top, and He will not leave us behind. Like with the blind-beggar, when we cry out to Him, He hears & asks us: ‘what do you want me to do for you.’ Jesus knows our ugliness, and yet He stays close to us. He hears our complaints, and forgives our failures; He’s seen our ups and our downs. He’s the One who is the right hand of God in the heavenly places =for us.
That fact bodes very well for our future; and what God gives & promises, there is no power that can take it away from us. That’s what gives us an attitude of solid courage & cheerful hope, for today and tomorrow. You could say that now, we are ‘insiders.’ It’s like being a worker in a company that your uncle owns; it’s like being the coach’s son or daughter; like growing up in the Rockefeller family, or as the child of Bill Gates == the rich inheritance is ours. The very Son of God, who rules over heaven & earth, has named you & me as His true friends. He’s made it to the top, and has promised to bring us along with Him. How do we know this? Because by Baptism in His name, He has attached himself to us.
Since the movie came out, many people have enjoyed the imaginative story: ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’ by C,S.Lewis. In fairy-tale fashion, Lewis tells the story of our salvation = like a parable.
The ruler of Narnia, a majestic Lion, laid down his life to break the evil power. In the end, Narnia is restored, and four children are crowned & seated on thrones in the kingdom. WE are like those children. Our lives are full of ups & downs, good things & bad things, but we will inherit a kingdom.
The Bible tells of many sad events, but the most tragic story comes right at the beginning; it’s one simple act of disobedience. Adam & Eve had it all. They were the prince & princess of all creation, having dominion over the earth. And then, they sinned against their Creator; they were cut off from Him. Man, male & female, was created in God’s image, but that image died with sin. Now, we are all like ‘the prodigal son,’ running away from God, living wild, dreaming up our own false gods, & are children inheriting death.
That’s the terrible reality: sin has brought down the sons of Adam & the daughters of Eve; making us childish, foolish, & lost. +Sin makes us think that our thoughts & our ways are right, & everyone else is wrong. +We put others down to make ourselves feel important, but it only shows how small-minded & selfish we are. +We spend our best efforts, time & money on things that don’t last rather than on God’s things. +We covet, & are jealous of what others have, and it shows how empty & unsatisfied we are inside.
But today, the Day of Ascension, we are shown the light & truth again. The heavens have opened up to receive & exalt Jesus – far above all rule & authority, and power & dominion. Thru His cross, Jesus has taken our smallness & our foolish sin upon himself. The good news is this: while we were still sinners, He was committed to forgive us & save us from the holy Law that condemned us. He has stood up for us before heaven’s throne: we have gone from being lost earthly children to being the very children of God with an eternal inheritance.
By the power of His Resurrection, Jesus has spoken for the entire fallen race. And by His Ascension into heaven, He gives us a glimpse of our future; of being freed from sin;
free from trouble, pain, tears & death. We can’t hardly imagine that; but because He says so, even now, we begin to live in that promise. That’s what Jesus did in His earthly life as one of us = He was ‘a son of man’, but He lived like the Son of God, & a child of heaven. That’s what He calls us to do; with Jesus, we are reborn as children of God traveling thru a fallen world, until He brings us home.
That’s why He teaches us to turn from sin and live as His followers; to live with Him so that we will not lose that future. He teaches us to resist our hard-hearts so that we will be patient & kind-hearted; He has taught us to turn away from being selfish or cruel, so that we will be generous & gentle; He has taught us how to grow up to balance the reality of living in this fallen world without becoming overly attached to worldly things. This is the life of the children of God who are inheriting a kingdom.
When your baptismal gown was put on you, however many years ago, you were fitted for future royal garments. The promise of Baptism is that Christ Jesus has already covered you in His own robe of righteousness. On your confirmation day, as you wore that white gown, you were having a dress rehearsal for the glory that is coming. Even if you were confirmed without an earthly gown, with your public confession of faith & trust in Jesus Christ, He has promised that He knows you, and has acknowledged you before His Father in heaven.
So, we do not envy those in the world who are invested only in earthly power, influence & money. We feel bad for them. They know how to dream earthly dreams, and act like big-shots; but they do not have the real joy of holding on to the promise & delight of our heaven to come. Because our Savior Jesus has become Lord-over-all, WE are in line for a promotion, which makes all earthly glory seem like child’s play.
This is what Paul was praying for for the believers in Ephesus, = and for us.
He demonstrates for us a mature faith balanced with the delight & joy of a child. We do acknowledge the realities & damage of sin, which makes this life change and a challenge. And that’s why Jesus came to us. We now have a new life by faith in Christ, forgiven in His cross, and standing firm in His Easter resurrection. With Him we are children of God.
And now, because our Brother Jesus ascended into the highest heaven, we will also ascend to be with Him. This is the promise & hope that sparks our imaginations. So, go ahead dream a little, esp. about the future. That’s what children do. And in the exalted Lord Jesus, we are the children of God.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Amen