Ephesians 1: 15-23
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
As I begin to preach in this month of June, I am reminded that these sermons throughout this month are truly the beginning of an end of my time in ministry here at the Rockbridge Charge. As we enter into this time of great transitions I am ever aware of the many emotions that moving on brings up. As you all know while I was growing up we moved around a lot as a family. The concept of saying goodbye to friends was always difficult, and saying good bye to those enemies were, well celebrated. As I would imagine, many of these same feelings will be experienced by many of us this month. Some who are very saddened to see Jackie and I move on, while yet there may be others who are relieved to see us go. But as I have experienced often myself in these times of transitions there is always for most the looking ahead with great expectations for the future. When I graduated High School, I had put before me these romanticized ideas of what college will be like. As I graduated from college, I again had great expectations of what it would be like to serve a three point charge and go to seminary while finally being married. And now, as I have finished seminary, I have a hope for the future to where I will be going onto and these expectations of the ministry context to which we will be moving. But there has always been something a little bit different about my experience than most of the church. When I moved, I moved with my pastor each and every time. As I thought about this experience of transitioning I came to recognize something I believe is quite significant, I was always the one doing the leaving and not being the one left. Myself, never before experiencing the latter, have begun to think how drastically the difference is from being left to doing the leaving. Often I have felt when leaving, it was the socially acceptable thing to be the one to give the expectations of the current relationship and the future of that relationship. And so, as I leave I will begin with a simple bit of instruction. When I leave an appointment, I leave the appointment. What I mean by this instruction is that my hope for you and for this charge is that you will embrace the pastor to come as the resident pastor. Often in my experience of the Rockbridge Charge, you all have been loving and welcoming of pastors that were previously here. I hope, that you will understand that when I leave in a month, I will not be coming back for those functions at least until the current pastor has firmly rooted themselves in the position of pastor. This is not meant to say that I do not wish to come back, but rather, it is my hope and my expectations that you all will enjoy those events of fellowship with getting to know and learning to trust the new pastor. Leaving and saying these words are not by any means easy words to say, however, Jackie has also reminded me that being left is not easy either. Those who are left often feel that things may no longer be in their control. While out of control, they have also these mixed feeling of their high hopes and expectations of what is yet to come.
I bring all of this up for two reasons on this day, One these are the experiences that many of us are going through as we are coming to this transition in the life of the charge and two, we see here in the Gospel Lesson today a very similar picture being painted. Jesus is preparing to leave the disciples, giving them explanations of his hopes and his expectations of them after he leaves. Jesus is assuming the role of the one leaving, while the disciples are experiencing like many of you the feelings of being out of control, unsure of what the future may hold for them, and questioning if their leader has left them, then who is going to be with them?
But Jesus gives very clear instruction to them: He says, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Jesus’ expectations of the disciples are not that they will go home now and mourn the loss of their leader, but instead Jesus is saying that I am leaving you only for a while, but while I am gone you have a mission, you have a purpose and you have work that is to be done. You are sent into the world and beginning with Jerusalem you are to go to the corners of the earth and proclaim the message of forgiveness and repentance to all nations. While I was in Jerusalem, I continually would see a cross, this cross actually, that represents in an image the purpose of the disciples with these words of Jesus. This is called the Jerusalem Cross as it shows that THE Cross was in Jerusalem, in the center, but the cross, the death and resurrection is to be proclaimed in the four corners of the earth and is a message of hope to all nations of the work that is being done by God.
Along with these instructions of witnessing, Jesus answers their fears of who will be with them? Is this a task that I must do alone? Jesus says that he will be sending what his Father has promised, a being clothed from the power above. Jesus effectively and perfectly was preparing them for his leaving by giving them instruction of what they are to do.
Over the next couple of weeks, I hope that you will see the words of the sermons to be words of instruction and words of my hope for you all. I have great expectations of not only the places I’ll go, but also great expectations for the work that the Rockbridge Charge will be doing in the coming years. I have the expectations of hearing about you faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and your love toward all the saints as Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus. And as Paul prayed for the churches that he had left, I want you all to know firstly that although my physical presence and ministry will no longer be with the Rockbridge Charge, my prayers that you may have a spirit of wisdom and that you may continue to grow in the knowledge and love of God will always be present. We, although separated by distance, still are united by the one spirit that Christ gave to his disciples and we will continually be working towards that higher goal as the one true Church as we witness to the love of God throughout the nations, revealing to all the Kingdom of God that is in us and through us as we still yet proclaim the fullness of the Kingdom to come.
As Jesus left his disciples from that mount gave a blessing to those who followed him, I would like to close today with a Franciscan Blessing that was very meaningful to me as it was given to the graduating seminarians at Baccalaureate as we were preparing to leave seminary. I believe that this blessing may certainly be in line with the blessing that Jesus may have given his disciples prior to him departure from his physical ministry.
May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God’s creations
So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done.