Acknowledging the Territory
Although today we each gather from our own individual homes, we are reminded that we still gather on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge this. We also respectfully honour the traditions and spirituality of all our indigenous brothers and sisters.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ candle this morning, we open our hearts and our lives to the light of Christ, and we commit ourselves to allow that light to shine through us at all times and in all circumstances.
Call to Worship
As those first disciples stood gazing up into the heavens, they had no idea what the future might hold.
We gather today facing an unknown and uncertain future.
Those first disciples had many questions; how would they live, how would they bear witness to all they had seen and heard.
We wonder how we should live and how we should bear witness to our faith.
Those first disciples longed for the presence of the Spirit to inspire their living and give then the language to share what was in their hearts.
We long for the Spirit to touch our hearts and inspire our living.
Those first disciples spent all their time offering God their thanks and praise.
We gather here today to offer our praise and thanks to God.
So, as we gather, let us worship God.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Ever-living God, Christ once dwelt on earth, confined by time and space, but never alone. Give us faith to discern, in every time and place, your presence among us.
As we prepare to worship today, we ask that you will stretch our imaginations
to sense the majesty and mystery within the story of Christ’s ascension. Help us to
find within the stories of our past, the hope for our future and the assurance that wherever we go, you are with us always. Amen.
Gift of Music The Head That Once Was Crowned #190
Acts 1: -11
The book of Acts or the Acts of the Apostles, is the sequel to the Gospel according to Luke. While the gospel deals with the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Acts of the Apostles carries on the story of what happened after Jesus resurrection. It begins with the story of the Ascension of Jesus.
Psalm 47 offers praise for the victories given to the people of God, in other words to the Israelite people, but it also offers the reminder that God is the ruler of all the world and all the nations.
Paul begins his letter to the church in Ephesus with words of thanks and praise for their faithfulness. He goes on to pray that the Spirit will make them wise and open their minds to the light, the hope, the blessing and the power of God.
The Gospel According to Luke ends where the Acts of the Apostles begins, with the story of Jesus being taken up into Heaven.
So Now What?
Can’t you picture those first disciples standing there, looking up at the sky and asking, “So now what?” I certainly can. Everything had changed. Things would never go back to the way they had once been. This was a whole new world and they had no idea what would happen next.
Once again, Jesus was gone. But this time it was different. Before they had mourned his death, something that they could understand. It had been sad, frightening and had left them feeling alone and empty. But this time instead of sorrow there was awe and wonder. Yes, Jesus was not physically with them, and yet this time they understood in a very different way that the spirit he had talked about and had promised them, was still there, even if Jesus was not.
But this was a brand-new reality. It was not like what they had known before. Sure, there were similarities. The entire time they had known Jesus, they had travelled around with him learning from him. Eventually Jesus had sent out on their own to teach, heal and share the good news of God’s love for all people. But he had always been there to advise them and to help them out if they got into trouble.
But now they must learn to do it without Jesus being physically present with them. Without him there telling them where to go and what to do, how would they know what to do next? And would they still be able to do it? This new reality was exciting, challenging and extremely frightening.
They had been promised that they would be touched by the spirit and that that spirit would give them the power and the words they needed to fulfill the mission they had been given. But when would that happen, and what if it didn’t? So, the disciples stood there, looking up at the heavens.
I was listening to a discussion about Ascension recently, and one of the people involved made a rather interesting comment. She said, think about the question those two men dressed in white asked the disciples. “Galileans, why are you standing there looking up at the sky?” Remember that at the tomb, an angel asked the women “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, “People of Faith, why do you stand there looking for Jesus in a church building?”
I had never thought about Ascension in that way, but this question opens up all kinds of possibilities. What are we waiting for in our lives? What do we think will happen when or if we receive what we are waiting for? And what are we or what should we be doing while we wait?
I think the one thing that we are all waiting for at this point in our lives is for our province and our country to reach the point of what they are calling “herd immunity”. We are waiting for that point where enough people have been vaccinated that we will be told it is now safe to leave our homes. We are waiting for the time we can gather with others, restart our community meals and maybe even travel without being terrified that we’re going to catch Covid.
But if we are truly expecting that things will return to exactly the way they were, I’m afraid we are going to be very disappointed. Some things in our world have changed forever. Having lived through a world-wide pandemic and having seen the terrifying results of an uncontrollable virus, most of us will never be able to feel quite as secure again. Even if we know that this virus has been beaten, there will always be, somewhere in the back of our minds, that needling worry about what might happen next time.
Now it’s true that right now we have no choice but to wait. The same is true of those first disciples. They had to wait for the Spirit to touch and inspire them. They had to wait until they were ready to accept the gift and the responsibility of receiving the power they had been promised.
So, what did they do? In our gospel reading this morning, Luke tells us that they, “went back into Jerusalem, filled with great joy, and spent all their time in the Temple giving thanks to God.”
Seems straight-forward enough, but I can’t help but wonder if there was more to it than just that overwhelming joy. They had to know that, as much as their lives had already changed, there would be even greater changes ahead of them. They had to know that if they were to carry on Jesus’ mission, they would be putting themselves in the same danger that he had faced. Surly, in amongst all that joy and celebration, there had to be at least a little bit of apprehension. Perhaps, while they were there in the temple giving thanks to God, they were also praying for direction and for courage to face the unknown future they were being called to embrace.
So, as we wait for Covid to abate, what are we doing in the meantime? Are we simply standing looking up, or perhaps looking back, or are we filled with joy and perhaps a bit of apprehension at what our new future, our new reality will look like? Are we, like those first disciples, giving thanks to God for all the new possibilities that lay ahead of us, even if we have no idea what those new possibilities might end up looking like?
And this is certainly not something that is limited to our Covid experience. Many people seem to go through their entire lives standing and looking us, waiting for something to change of waiting for something to happen. I remember talking to someone a number of years ago who told me that, as she approached the age of 50, she realized that she had spent her entire life, up to that point, waiting. She had been waiting to graduate from University so that she could start her career; she had been waiting to get married and start a family; she had been waiting for her kids to grow up so she would have more free time; she had worked hard, spending many long hours at her job, waiting to build up her savings so she could feel financially secure enough to relax and enjoy life. She told me that she had realized that because she had spent so much time waiting for something that was always in the future, she had missed out on a lot of possibilities in the present.
I do not believe that she was alone in that. I think many of us, and I include myself in this, often tend to focus so much on something that we hope for in the future, that we fail to make the most of what is happening all around us. We fail to see the possibilities often hidden within the challenges that we face.
If the disciples had continued to stand there with their eyes fixed on the sky, they could not possibly have been gathered in an upper room on Pentecost, where, we are told, they were touched by the Spirit descending on them like tongues of fire. Peter would not have felt moved to preach to the crowds gathered to celebrate the Pentecost festival, inspiring people for all over to become disciples of Jesus. If they had been still standing there, looking up at the sky, would they ever have had the courage to move forward?
And what would have happened if those disciples had been so focused on the scriptural promise that Jesus would return, that they did nothing but stand and wait? Sadly, there are people today who feel they don’t need to do anything except believe in Jesus, because they are waiting for Jesus to return and sort everything out. All they need to do is wait.
Despite what some people think, this is not the message that Luke offers. For Luke, ending with the gospel, with the good news of Christ’s resurrection, was not enough. Luke saw the story of Jesus teachings, life, death and resurrection as only the beginning, only the first part of the story.
The story continued with the disciples searching to find new meaning and new purpose for themselves after Jesus’ resurrection. It continued with them finding new ways to share the good news of God’s love for all people, in a way that was different than the way it had been shared during Jesus’ life. The story continued with them reaching out to a scattered community throughout the known world, who longed to know the rest of the story.
Perhaps, in ways, we are more like that scattered community for whom Luke wrote The Acts of the Apostles, then we realize. They were scattered and hiding in their own homes or small intimate communities for fear of being arrested and persecuted. We are isolated in our own homes for fear of a virus.
But out of those scattered communities of believers grew a faith that become known as Christianity. Because they found new ways to share Christ’s message, even in the most difficult of times, we have a history as part of the Christian Church.
So, this Ascension Sunday, instead of focusing on the beautiful picture Jesus serenely drifting up to heaven on a white fluffy cloud, perhaps we need to remember that question posed to those first disciples “Why do you stand looking up at the sky?” And perhaps we need to remember that the same question is as relevant for us today as it was for them. Are we, like they were, willing to risk lower our gaze, looking around us and answering the call to risk the challenges of discipleship? Amen.
Gift of Music Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise #189
We Offer Our Gifts
At this time in our worship, we are reminded that our commitment to God also includes the gifts we offer. Normally we would be asking God’s blessing on the gifts that we place in our offering plates as well as the gifts we offer through PAR or through online donations. But today there are no offering plates so instead we remind people that as well as PAR and online donations, people can also drop donations off at the church by using the mail slot to the left of the office entry. As always, however, we need to also remember that our financial contributions are only one of the many things that we have to offer. We offer our time, our talents, our abilities, our commitment and our prayers. And so whatever it is we offer and however we choose to offer it, let us ask God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray; Loving God, bless these gifts that we offer you today that they may be offerings of love that that they may help nurture and grow you love in our church, our community and our world. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now, although we may not have a prayer jar in which to place our prayers, let us take a moment of silence to offer our prayers for all those named in our hearts, our thoughts, and our minds as well as those whose deepest needs are known only to God hearts … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayer of the People
Holy One, all too often we seem to find ourselves gazing up towards heaven praying that you will come down and fix everything for us. All too often we fail to recognize you standing there in front of us asking “Why are you just standing there?” Too often we seem to forget that you have promised to empower us to do the work to which you call us. Yet we also know that without your guidance and strength, the concerns, worries and challenges of our world are too much for us.
And so, we come to you in prayer.
In a world often filled with war, terrorism and bloody revolutions, teach us how to be peace makers …
In a world often filled with random violence, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, teach us how to speak up and to speak out …
In a world where children, the elderly, those of colour and those of differing ethnic and religious background are often discriminated against, exploited and miss-treated, teach us to value all people as your beloved children …
In a world where natural beauty and the diversity of life, ecosystems and natural resources are often sacrificed in the name of financial gain or industrial progress, teach us to value your creation …
In a world where so many are sick and dying, often because they lack the medical assistance they need, teach us how to share your gift of healing …
In a world where so many live-in poverties while others have far more then they can ever need, teach us how to share more equitably the resources of our world …
In a world where so many are lonely, sad and feeling hopeless, teach us to be your voice of comfort, compassion and love …
In a world where so many people seem to give up on the dream of a better world, teach us to hold on to your dream and to live out that dream in our own lives as we seek to follow the example of the one who came to show us that dream as a living reality, Jesus the Christ. And so, we offer this prayer along with the words that Jesus followers have prayed together since our church began …
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Gift of Music Crown Him with Many Crowns #211
God’s Spirit touches us not only in worship but in every aspect of our lives. So, remember that in whatever you so no matter where you are, God is with you, Christ’s example leads you and the Spirit accompanies you now and always. Amen.