(Luke 24:44-53)

And then he was gone! Jesus took them to a place, taught them one last time how he fulfilled the scriptures… and he was gone!

We don’t often hear the scripture readings we’ve heard this morning. At least not United Church worship. The readings this morning are about the ascension of Christ, an event which was actually celebrated this past Thursday. I decided we might break tradition a little bit and hear these readings today instead of our usual Sunday readings. I think the ascension itself is an important moment to remember as we prepare for Pentecost next week. Ascension is a time where we hear of Christ returning to be with God.

Whenever I prepare to preach on a text, I like to sit with the readings and see what verses or phrases jump out at me. There were two in our reading from Luke today which caught my attention.

The first one is, “[Jesus] opened their minds to understand the scriptures”. Many times through the Gospels it seems as though the disciples are bumbling fools who never get it. They miss some pretty clear points Jesus makes at times, and then ask dumb questions to figure it what it all means. The appear oafish, slow, almost as comedic relief at times. But here… here is where their attitudes change. Here they appear to finally mature into the great leaders of the church. They finally get it.

This leads into the second phrase that caught my attention. After Jesus had ascended into heaven, they worshipped him, they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”

Think back to Good Friday… when Jesus died, what did the disciples do? They hid in the upper room because they thought they were next in line to die. They expected at any moment someone would knock on the door and drag them away to be next on the cross. They lived in fear and misunderstanding. Despite all Jesus taught them about how he was going to be the one to die so they may live, they still thought they were guilty by association.

But after the resurrection, Jesus teaches them one last time. He opens their minds to the scriptures, and they get it. They really get it! And when Jesus blesses them and leaves them to be with God, there is no more fear. They are filled with joy and immediately begin to worship.

And when they returned to Jerusalem, they could have easily gone back to the upper room to hide. But they didn’t. They went straight to the temple, the holiest place in town and worshiped God because of what they now understood about Jesus Christ. They finally understood they were walking with God in a deep and personal relationship. They loved Jesus, and they knew he loved them. In the Gospel of John, in Jesus’ last meal with the disciples, he asks Peter, “Peter do you love me?” And Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Three times Jesus asks, and each time Peter responds, “you know that I love you.”

I believe we are called into this same relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I’ve been reading a couple of books lately. The first being The Shack. In it a man named Mac is in the wilderness where he encounters God in a shack after a horrifying event in the life of his family. In fact, the shack itself is a key element in this event.

It is in this shack where Mac is invited to enter into a personal relationship with God. To understand God mourns with him, and to let God into his life to help him heal this burden he’s been carrying with him. Mac’s problems didn’t go away, but in this closeness with God, he is finally able to deal with them in a healthy way and to be present to his family who needs him after years of being emotionally distant.

The other book I am currently reading is called Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus. This book speaks about how our youth ministries need to be more than just programming and dreaming of huge numbers of youth running around the church. It says we need to share the presence of Jesus Christ with our youth. To be the presence of Jesus Christ with our youth. What this book speaks about goes beyond just our youth groups.

I believe we need to share this presence of Jesus Christ with all we meet in our churches, in our work places and in our communities. This doesn’t mean we need to go out and preach and proclaim what the risen Christ has done in our lives. While it is one way, the most effective way is to simply act as Christ would act.

We need to be like Christ. We need to listen with a loving ear. We need to be a voice of reason and compassion in the world, to speak out against the injustices for those who cannot speak for themselves. We need to not be afraid to go where others may not dare to go. This is what being the presence of Jesus Christ is about.

However, it makes a big difference how we act depending on if we believe in what Christ has done for us. We too can be like the disciples. The question is, which version are we?

Are we the bumbling, slow to understand disciples we see through most of the gospels? Or are we the one’s who have taken Christ’s message into our hearts, allowing Christ to reveal his true self to us and thus changing our entire outlook on life.

Are we the disciples who hide in a closed building? Or are we in the public, joyfully reveling in what Christ has taught us! Even to the point of worshiping Christ in the places which do their best to keep him out.

We can’t keep this joy locked up. We can’t hold it in a box, a room or a church. Jesus moved religion from the temple out into the streets. He showed us that faith is more than an act or ritual. Jesus showed us faith is life. It’s how we live.

Look at the letters written in the Bible by the disciples as they were renewed and joyous after Jesus ascended into heaven. They were new men. Jesus had touched them and moved them into new directions. Taking them from their old jobs of fishermen and tax collectors, turning them into heroes of faith.

Once they understood, once they realized the Christ within themselves, once they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, their mission changed. The began to proclaim what Christ did in their lives. They began to share with other communities and help others see what Christ did for them. Their words are also meant for us today. They are meant to help us see the Christ within us, and to learn about this great gift we have received through our relationship with God.

A practice mentioned in the youth ministry book is one of contemplative prayer. In order to be more Christ-like, we need to enter into intentional time with God. Quiet time with God. To allow God to form us, change us, enter into us. We may not receive some great revelation in these times of prayer, but over time we will begin to notice changes in ourselves. Changes which allow us to be more present with those we meet in our lives. Changes which will help us to see people as Christ himself might see them.

I invite you to enter into some time of contemplative prayer this week. As we approach the celebration of Pentecost next Sunday, how might we be more present to ourselves, others and to God? Contemplative prayer can be as simple as finding a word we relate to God. Love, peace, Father, life, whatever works best for you. It might help to have an object to help you focus as well. A candle, a rock, a cross. And to sit and reflect and meditate on the word. If you find your mind starting to wander, bring it back to your focus word, and let God be your guide. This whole process can be as short as 10 minutes as you start out.

I can’t say what the end result will look like, because for each and every one of us it will be different. But, I can say, a deeper relationship with God will benefit you, the church and the community in which we live.

I confess I am not good at this. Sitting still and keeping my mind quiet is not an easy thing for me. It’s something I work on and hope to improve, because I know I will be a better minister if I can do this.

A deeper relationship with God is something which provides results. The disciples are a prime example of it. How else can a bumbling group of wanna-be’s turn into the foundation of a new church? Once they heard Christ reveal who he is as the son of God, their whole lives changed and they worked to make the world a better place.

Are we also hearing how Christ is revealed to us? Are we seeing the world as Christ would have us see it? The world around us is crying out for a source of hope and healing, and we need not look past our newspapers in the morning to see how Halifax is reeling in crime and violence across all age groups, young and old. As we enter into a deeper relationship with God through Jesus Christ, maybe we can see where we can be part of healing and hope. All through our joyous celebration of being people of God.