The mission Continues - Luke24: 44-53
Do you remember as a teenager when your parents would leave for the weekend? I remember in high school being excited on the rare occasion when my parents would go away for the weekend and leave my brother and me home alone. Maybe we could have friends over! Maybe we could throw a party! It’d be a bunch of fun. But then there was the list. The list mom and dad left with things to do on it. Feed the chickens, yeah we had chickens. Feed the cats and dog too. Oh and walk the dog, twice a day. Water the garden, and pick the vegetables. Mow the lawn on Saturday. Put chemicals in the pool. Do this, do that. Their exit for the weekend had given my brother and me some newfound freedom, but their exit also left us with a bunch of responsibilities we needed to take care of.
Maybe that’s how the disciples felt after they witnessed Jesus ascend into heaven. He had been their leader, their teacher, their guide. When he was around they didn’t really need to think about what the plan was, or make significant decisions about their future. They trusted him and they followed his lead. But now he was gone. Now they needed to take on newfound responsibilities in continuing his mission. He left them with some instructions, which included being his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Wow, that’s a heavy responsibility if I ever heard one. Continue Jesus’ mission. Like heal the sick, feed the hungry, love the outcast, forgive the sinner, preach the gospel. Jesus did a lot of good stuff while he was on earth, and the disciples were instructed to continue it. Even though Jesus is gone, the mission continues.
They didn’t seem to know what to do. But Jesus saw that. So he tells them to wait in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit. Then they’ll know what to do. Then they’ll be witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. But for now, for the next ten days, they wait. They wait after the Ascension with uncertainty about what the future holds.
Sometimes we might feel this uncertainty. The uncertainty of not knowing how to fulfill God’s mission in the world. The uncertainty of not having Jesus present and not yet being empowered by the Spirit. Although the disciples experienced Jesus’ literal physical presence and then received tremendous power from on high at Pentecost, their journey is also our journey in a way. Ever since the first disciples, all Christians have experienced doubt in themselves if they could actually follow God’s plan. All Christians have experienced fear and uncertainty. All Christians have wondered if we have what it takes to be disciples, to be the type of people who are Jesus’ witnesses, to be the type of people who share the Gospel message to the ends of the earth.
And to all of us who have ever wondered if we can do it. To all of us who ever felt insecure or unworthy or inferior. To all of us who have ever doubted ourselves. Jesus assures us that we will receive power from on high as well. He is still with us, and is our guide and teacher through life. And we will also be a part of continuing Jesus’ mission in the world. None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something to extend Christ’s mission in the world.
We know his mission does continue. Like the disciples, we are called to continue Jesus’ mission in the world. To heal the sick and feed the hungry. To break the bonds of oppression and set prisoners free. To do the inner work of the spiritual journey. To tell others about how transformative our relationship with God is, share that good news, and help cultivate relationship with Christ in others.
So let us ask ourselves, seriously ask ourselves. What are we doing to continue Jesus’ mission? What are we doing to ensure all the sick have adequate healthcare? What are we doing to ensure the hungry are fed and that systems that perpetuate poverty are challenged and transformed? What are we doing to advocate for the oppressed, whether it’s marginalized groups in our own country or around the world? How are we doing on our spiritual journey, with our own inner work and growth in Christian maturity? And how are we doing with spreading the Good News of Jesus to the ends of the earth? Are we comfortable telling others about the impact Jesus has had in our life? Would we even know what to say if someone asked us?
All these questions may sound like a long list of to-dos that parents might give to a teenager when they’re going away for the weekend. But Jesus doesn’t expect us to check every single item off the list. Christianity is not about a to-do list, Christianity is about a relationship with God in Jesus Christ. But it is that very relationship which inspires us to do these things. The love we receive empowers us to do whatever it is God is calling us to do with our lives. We may not travel around the world baptizing thousands. But we can tell a friend about why church is important in our life. We may not bring world peace. But we can stand in vocal opposition to whatever the next war might be. We may not feed everyone who’s hungry. But we can feed people in Hartford at Grace Lutheran’s Friday night meals, or donate to ELCA World Hunger to make sure at least one more family has food on the table.
There are so many things we get to do in the name of Jesus. All of which relate somehow to our St. Matthew tagline “Digging deep, reaching out, and changing lives.” The inner work of digging deep into ourselves and growing. The sharing of the message by reaching out to tell others about God’s love. And the changing of lives by serving the world in whatever way God is calling us. In this way Jesus’ mission continues, even to this day.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, he knew that his disciples would in fact continue his work. Even though they were incredibly unsure of themselves. Even though they were bumbling fools at times. And we know that, as imperfect as we are, Jesus’ work continues in us as well. Jesus isn’t really gone. Because he lives in us. We are the Body of Christ. We are Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. That’s what it means to be the church, the Body of Christ. And the reality of the Ascension makes it so that Christ is present in all of creation. Not just in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, but in every atom of this universe Christ is present. In the Lutheran tradition this teaching is called the “Ubiquity of the Corpus Christi.” It’s a fun one to say, and it’s incredibly powerful to think about. Christ is now present in all of creation. And his work continues on in us, the Body of Christ.
And so, Body of Christ, it is our responsibility and privilege to continue Jesus’ mission here. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, love the outcast, welcome the refugee, share the good news of God’s love with all people. Like Jesus told the first disciples, so he says to us: you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.