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May 13, 2018 Feast of the Ascension Sunday

The Bible is divided into the time before Jesus, the time of Jesus, and the time between Jesus and the final restoration of the reign of heaven.  The communities described in Acts, and us too, are all lodged in this third period of time.   The Acts of the Apostles is the story of how our time began.  The story of Acts is the continuation of all that Jesus “began to do and teach.”

Forty is a significant number in the scriptures.  Moses went to the mountain to seek the face of God for forty days in prayer and fasting.  The people of Israel were in the wilderness for forty years in preparation for their entry into the promised land.  Elijah fasted for forty days as he journeyed in the wilderness to the mountain of God.

Jesus spent forty days after his resurrection re-explaining everything to his apostles and disciples that he had previously spent 3 years teaching them.  For forty days Jesus prepared them for the task of carrying on the work which he began during his earthy ministry.

He encouraged them!  He built them up!  Jesus told them that they were going to act and do everything just like He did.  They were to receive the power from the Holy Spirit.  These Apostles and disciples would act on Jesus’ behalf in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.

Were they interested in what he had to say?  No!  After spending this additional 40 days with Jesus, they were more interested in whether the Romans were going to be expelled from their lands and that the kingdom of Israel would be restored.  And yet, when Jesus was lifted up, they just stood there waiting and watching – thinking that Jesus would reappear – just like after His resurrection.  They still doubted!

“They doubted.”. They had doubt in themselves and their abilities.  Over and over the Bible tells us “Be not Afraid!”  365 times!  One for everyday of the year!  We look at this as “they doubted,” but we also worship Jesus and we doubt.  Because of doubt we are not people who fully believe in the hope and joy of the  resurrection.  We hold something back, don’t we?

We tend to live our day to day lives like people who can easily get upset by the smallest of things.  Let’s take a little mental test right now.  We’ll make two quick lists in our head: 1) list the ways I show signs of living the hope and joy of the resurrection; 2) now list the ways I show I am upset, disturbed, impatient, frustrated, angry at the people, situations, circumstances around me.  Do you see what I mean?  Our life is in His hands and we have nothing to fear because he is always with us.

Before Jesus ascends into heaven, he said to his disciples: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Jesus assigns them the task of building up his Church.  First and foremost He tells the disciples to go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel.  And he adds a list of things that will characterize those of his followers who obey this command: they will drive out demons, speak new languages, handle snakes safely, drink deadly things without harm, and heal the sick by the laying on of hands.  The things on Christ’s list are similar to the things that you (or your mother) might worry about if you were traveling in dangerous places.  Jesus tells them that they don’t need to worry about these things: He has already thought about these things and in his mercy he has made provision for them all.

“By rising to the Father on a cloud of glory, Jesus confirms that he is the Son of Man who has emerged victorious and that the restored kingdom Daniel envisioned has arrived.  It is now up to the apostles to extend this kingdom to the ends of the earth.”  …

We are so accustomed to this story that it no longer astonishes us.  Remember, these were the same men who just a few weeks earlier had abandoned Christ and locked themselves up in a room out of fear.  Humanly speaking anyone would have bet a good deal that their mission was doomed to prompt and certain failure –– and yet, here we are two thousand years later!

Jesus’ last words to his apostles calls them to be witnesses of his saving death and his glorious resurrection and to proclaim the good news of salvation to all the world.  Their task is to proclaim the Gospel – the good news of salvation – not only to the people of Israel, but to all the nations in building up His Church.  God’s love and gift of salvation is not reserved for a few or for one nation alone, but it is for the whole world – for all who will accept it.  The Gospel is the power of God, the power to release people from their burden of guilt, sin, and oppression, and the power to heal, restore, and make us whole.

St. Paul speaks of the need for the followers of Jesus to live out the gifts they have received.  It is not so that they can get to heaven, rather it is to remind us that we can live “in a manner worthy” of the call.  It is our simple task to live with integrity.  It means that we should live as Christ did and lived.  The key to success in the mission of being a witness to Christ and his Gospel is found in letting God work.  Like the first apostles, we have to cast our nets where the Lord directs us.  So many times pride and human ambition have stood in the way of God’s plan.  We need to stop deceiving ourselves into thinking that the things of this earth will ultimately give meaning to our lives.  We don’t have to be anything special to work for the Lord; all we need to do is to follow his direction.

Like the first apostles, we too share in the mission of spreading Christ’s kingdom in the world today.  Yet we do not have to become missionaries in any other country to do this.  We can start here at home.  Whether a teacher in the classroom, a businessman in the workplace, a college student on campus, or a mother raising children in the home, all Christians play a crucial role in helping build the kingdom where God has called them to serve.  By bringing the extraordinary witness of Christian truth, virtue, and love into our ordinary, daily lives, we can help transform our culture into the kingdom of the risen and ascended Christ.  This is the great commission which the risen Christ gives to the whole church.  All believers have been given a share in this task – to be heralds of the good news and ambassadors for Jesus Christ, the only savior of the world.  We have not been left alone in this task, for the risen Lord works in and through us by the power of his Holy Spirit.

Time and time again throughout history, Our Lord has shown signs of his power at work in his Church to strengthen our faith.  Extraordinary miracles have always accompanied the preaching of the Gospel to this very day.  Demons are still being driven out, and many sick are still being cured in the most extraordinarily unexplainable ways.  The greatest miracle of all, however, is the miracle of Christ’s continued presence with us in the Eucharist and the conversion of heart that takes place in the sacrament of reconciliation.  God is constantly at work for his people.  Even when he doesn’t grant us astonishing signs, he does shower many signs of his providence upon us every day.

The mission Christ gave the disciples was simple to understand but difficult to carry out.  It was to teach others all that he had taught them.  Just as he asked his disciples to obey him, they were to ask others to obey his directions.  The program of conversion and salvation must continue from generation to generation, until the end of time.  With all the changes in the church and in society, two things have not changed: Jesus himself, and his message of grace and mercy.  The Message and the Messenger have never, and will never change.  Those of us who worry about changes in the church and society should remember that the basics that matter can still be relied on.  He is with us always… and his mission our mission too.

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