Message Delivered on May 17, 2015
Acts 1:1-11; John 17:6-19 “Building a Legacy”
Ascension is one of the Christian celebrations that has been somewhat lost in observance. It is still on the calendar but we tend to focus on Pentecost, which follows. Pentecost rushes in with fire and color and gets our attention. Easter has its powerful message for Christians and Christmas is well accepted, albeit overrun with consumerism. Ascension sits on a little shelf in an alcove of our faith.
The Book of Acts is written by a Syrian physician, Luke, who could have believed that heaven was just above the dome of the sky that is clearly visible. The idea of Jesus rising into the sky and entering heaven seemed logical. Luke had no idea that far above the clouds there was an enormity of space containing billions of galaxies, each of them containing millions of stars like our sun. There was no reason to question that the Messiah would return the same way he left. The Jewish hope was that the Messiah would rip open the heavens themselves and descend to earth with chariots and an almighty army of angelic warriors to put aside all disorder and sin, and establish a single kingdom that would rule all the earth. It was a glorious vision, and it kept the Jews going when they were hemmed in by nations that wanted to destroy them.
This hope is evident in Luke’s report that the disciples “gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ ” Despite the crucifixion, which the Romans practiced to instill fear into the people, Jesus’ disciples believed that Jesus would be like the Messiah of legend. They were still thinking of earthly glory, where the nations of the earth, rather than ruining Israel, would be ruled over by Jesus Christ (the Messiah). They had been hoping for this from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. They are still hoping even though Jesus told them to stay together and wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. If Jesus were about to establish an earthly kingdom, what role would the baptism of the Holy Spirit play in that scenario? Jesus had been frustrated from time to time when the disciples did not understand the parables he told, or the healings he had performed. He had done everything to train and educate them for the work ahead to be done. He even died for them. They had not understood the resurrection. Even after his resurrection he had continued to teach and the disciples were still talking about restoring the kingdom to Israel. He tells them, “It is not for you to know.” and then he commissions them: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That commission applies to all of us, as well. We are to report to others all that Jesus has done for us, for others, and for the world. Jesus intended that we bring hope and joy to the world around us.
If the disciples listened closely, they would realize that they had an enormous task ahead of them. They were to preach in Jerusalem (a dangerous proposition), in all of Judea and Samaria (the land of pagans who worshiped in a temple other than the real temple in Jerusalem where God lives). The disciples had traversed on foot from Galilee to Jerusalem, to Caesaria, Sidon and Tyre–but–to go to the ends of the earth would mean to travel by sea which they had never done (Simon Peter, Andrew,
James and John were fishermen on Lake Galilee surrounded by land), preferring to buy goods from others who did the shipping.
The disciples waited…and waited for the inflowing of the Holy Spirit, not knowing that event would transform them, change them from frightened people, hiding in a locked house, into charismatic preachers. Jesus sent them forth to establish God’s Realm, but it was the power of the Holy Spirit that would enable them to begin the transformation of the world. How would they do the work for Jesus in his worldly absence?
In John’s gospel, it is noted that Jesus prayed “Those whom you gave me from the world…the words that you gave to me I have given to them and they have received them.” Jesus’ teaching is the essence of his legacy–one that will remain with the disciples and guide them as they continue his work in the world. This “changing of the guard” from Jesus to his disciples can be compared to late night television hosts Jay Leno (Johnny Carson before him) and soon, David Letterman, who established formats for late night viewing programs. What makes for a lasting legacy? There is no longer-lasting legacy than that of Jesus–one that has lasted over 2000 years, yet is not relegated to the history books. Instead, it is a living, breathing legacy that each Christian contributes to every day.
Words have power and can affect the legacy we leave, especially the negative effect that ill-considered words wield through the power of the internet and social media. When all we have to do is hit the “send” button, it is very easy to let our emotions get the best of us and to say things to the world that once we might have said only to those closest to us. Those words can now impact millions.
Everyone wants to leave a legacy but how is one built? We want to leave behind something that will make an impression, make a difference and create a footprint that will stand the test of time. As talk show hosts retire or move on, President Obama is approaching his final year in office. Young people are graduating from college and at other educational levels, closing a chapter of their lives to being another. Some will be retiring from careers in which they have spent decades. What will graduates and retirees leave for those who come after them? Will goals be higher because of what they did? Will the job be easier or harder because of them? What will be their legacy?
In John 17, Jesus prays for his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is preparing them for his departure and speaks of the things he wishes to leave for them: the Words God gave to him, which he gave to the disciples; God’s truth in Scripture; Jesus asks for the disciples to be protected and kept in unity and reconciliation. Jesus leaves the disciples the same joy that comes from being in relationship to the Father. Jesus gives the disciples a sense of mission, “I have sent them into the world.” All of the worlds, all of the unity, all of the joy is of no account if it is hoarded, or kept as a trophy or a treasure. Like the bread and wine of Holy Communion, they must be broken, poured out and shared with the world before they can know their true value as refreshment, renewal and empowerment for faith.
Have you ever written a will? Maybe for high school or college, in which you explained what you would be leaving to your alma mater and the underclassmen thereof. I have. They were copied, collated and distributed the last week of classes. Some of the wills were funny and some made little sense, but it was an opportunity for myself and others to consider what would be left behind for those who came after us. My classmates had given me so much. What would I leave in return? Were there any new standards because of something I had done or one of my classmates had accomplished?”
As the Easter season comes to an end, let us ask ourselves, “What have we done or created in the name of Jesus Christ that will serve the next generation? What will live on after we are gone that will bear witness to God’s grace and love for those who need to hear it most? Have we set precedents or learned how to turn a negative situation into a positive outcome for the building up of the Kingdom of God? Our words are the testimony we give about what we truly believe and no testimony is more powerful than that of the Christian life. 1 John 5:9-13 says, “Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony [of God] in their hearts.” Words can have the power to enlighten as well as to demean (Ephesians 1:15-23 suggests). Given the power that our words can have, it is essential for us to consider how we use them and in whose service we employ them.
Christ gives peace and his words are fully truth and truthful. The words we have from Christ and how we use them are part of the immediate legacy we leave on the hearts of those who receive them. In building a legacy to leave for others, kind and loving words, or sometimes harder truths spoken in love, should be our guides. It takes commitment, patience and love to build a legacy for those who will follow us. Once again, we are waiting for the Holy Spirit to move us to action.