On Ascension Day we looked at and celebrated the fact that we have a King. A King whose authority over all powers on earth and in the spiritual realm has been shown by His being raised from death and then raised to the very right hand of God in Heaven, the God who has now given to Him, to Jesus, all authority in Heaven and on Earth. That was our Ascension Celebration – we have a King.
Our reading today reminds us of Thursday’s Ascension and then says: “They went back to Jerusalem where they gathered frequently as a group.” Then there’s a list of that little group which makes interesting reading:
first, there are the apostles, but of course there’s one missing – we just have 11 names;
secondly we are told they gathered “with the women.” This is a group of women who supported Jesus’ ministry financially and in Luke 8 verse 1 we are told… After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means ;
thirdly, we’re told that there is Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers …… the group includes Jesus’ brothers. This is interesting, because in John 7:5 we are told that during Jesus’ ministry, “not even His brothers believed in Him.” and in Mark 3 we're told his family came to "take charge if him because people were saying he was mad" and they seem to agree. Now...they are part of the faithful group of followers at His Ascension. The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus change everything.....maybe even for you.......today.
So here they all are, in Jerusalem. Part of this strange group of people. And what are they doing …… they are waiting. Jesus said to them before His Ascension – go and wait in Jerusalem.
They weren’t really sure what they were waiting for –Yes, Jesus had said, and last week we looked at His saying, “I will send the Parakletos, the Comforter, the Intercessor, the Helper, the Advocate” – but they didn’t really know what they were waiting for. You feel that way as well sometimes, don't you, waiting....but not sure what for.
We know in retrospect that what they were waiting for was the birth of the Church. That is what happened at Pentecost. The Church was born – that is what we will celebrate next Sunday, Pentecost. It is the birthday of the Church. But in preparation for Pentecost, as part of our waiting, in a sense, I want to ask – what is the Church, what do you understand by “The Church”, what is this "thing" whose birthday we celebrate next week? I've touched on some of these ideas over the Easter season, but it's time now to draw them all together.
For many people, the church is something they “go to.” So……many of us and many children today grow up with this idea, that Church is somewhere you go to in the same way you go to the shops. Let me ask you again: “What is the Church?” Some of us have children and grandchildren....they might ask: “What is the church Grandpa/ma?” How would you answer? For many, the church has become defined as a place where certain things happen, like preaching and communion, and Bible Study.....so you might answer that it's a place where certain things happen. Let me ask you again: “What is the Church?”
Again, in many people’s thinking, it is something you attend or belong to, much as you would a service club like Rotary or Lions with its programmes and activities.
What is the Church? For too many, it is a “Place where……we go....or a place where certain things happen....or an organisation we belong to”
But the Church for whose birth that little group was waiting in Jerusalem, the Church whose birthday we celebrate next week at Pentecost, the Church as it is described in the New Testament, was never a “place where” but rather it is a “people who are.”
Not a “place where” but a “people who are…”
You and I sometimes “go to the doctor” don’t we. But we can’t use the same language for the Church and I want to encourage you to never again say, “I’m going to church” (and children and grandchildren.) You see, we go to the doctor, which is fine, but we are not the doctor, are we? We all know that. Now the problem with “going to church” is that we in fact ARE the Church. It is not possible for you to go to it because you are it. Yes, we go to worship, but we cannot with integrity “Go” to Church.
The Church is not “a place where” but a “people who are” and on Thursday we celebrated that we are a people who are the place where heaven and earth come together, where heaven and earth intersect. The Kingdom of God is now within us, said Jesus. Jesus sees people living the eternal kingdom way now in a fallen, sin-wrecked world that is in desperate need of hope and redemption.
Think of the street where you live – You are the church there.
Think of the place where you work – You are the church there.
Think of the place where you play sport – You are the church there.
Think of the pub or club you go to – You are the church there.
Jesus actually envisions a new kind of humanity (we looked at that on Thursday), a kingdom of God society.
What the disciples, the women, Mary and Jesus’ brothers were waiting for was the birth of a people who would be Christ’s presence and witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Alberton and to the ends of the earth.
The Church is God’s instrument through which the Holy Spirit moves and through which God expresses His love to the world – and the Church is you and me, so let me say that last sentence this way – You and I are God’s instrument through which the Holy Spirit moves and it is through you and me that God wants to express His love for the world, the people around us.
Jesus’ last words to that little group were a call to be such witnesses after they had waited for and then received the Holy Spirit. They are His call, His command, the plea of His heart to you and to me …… to be witnesses, filled with the Holy Spirit, who we now don't have to wait for,....witnesses in both word and deed as He has taught and shown.
This is the central task of the church, which is……the people of God, but it can only be accomplished with power from the Holy Spirit which is what they were waiting for, but what you and I just need to ask for, and then use.
We are the Church……Let us be the Church.