Fairhaven Sermon 5-21-2023


Reverend Peg Bowman draws a parallel between the essence of Mother’s Day, as intended by its founder Anna Jarvis, and Ascension Day, urging her congregation to honor Jesus by living the reality of these days rather than merely marking them as holidays. She discusses the significance of awe and how moments of divine intervention, such as Jesus’ miracles and his ascension, left people in awe, stressing that awe and wonder should be an integral part of our spiritual life. Rev. Bowman then explores the path Jesus and his disciples took during the ascension, from Jerusalem, up the Mount of Olives, to Bethany, highlighting that Jesus used this journey to impart the entirety of Old Testament teachings to his disciples, unveiling the connections between the prophetic texts and himself, the Messiah.

She emphasizes Jesus’ approach of teaching disciples gradually, comparing it to learning to cook in school, where simple dishes are taught first before advancing to complex ones. She notes that just before his ascension, Jesus offered a comprehensive review to his disciples, preparing them for his departure. The disciples would require the Holy Spirit’s power to continue Jesus’ mission, an aspect that is emphasized in the context of the Pentecost. This power is likened to a battery needing to be fully charged before use, suggesting the disciples needed to be spiritually ‘charged’ to fulfill God’s plan.

In addition to being a power source, the Holy Spirit is depicted as a source of memory and knowledge, bringing Jesus’ teachings to mind and providing deeper insights. Before leaving, Jesus gives them a mission to be witnesses to God’s truth and love, extending their faith into all aspects of life, ranging from personal interactions to the global community. The sermon concludes with the note that the disciples and all believers never go forward alone, and that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, can do more in this world than he could alone.


 Well, last week on Mother’s Day, I was talking to the other churches about blessing and about how mothers bless their children and about how children can bless their parents. And I also mentioned the founder of Mother’s Day, whose name was Anna Jarvis. She was a Methodist who lived in West Virginia, not terribly far from here. Anyway, what she really meant to create when she created Mother’s Day was a holiday that would honor women for their sacrifices in much the same way that Veteran’s Day honors the deeds and sacrifices of our servicemen and women. 

Anna Jarvis never meant to create a Hallmark holiday. And when she saw people making Mother’s Day into that, she was horrified and tried to put a stop to the holiday that she had created. And I mention this today because today is Ascension Day, which we celebrate. It was actually last Thursday, but we celebrate it today. 

And this also is a time of remembrance and blessing. And like Mother’s Day, it’s much more meaningful if we honor Jesus by living its reality rather than simply celebrating a holiday. I’m kind of diving into the deep end, so let me back up and start at the beginning here. So today’s scriptures begin with the psalm that we read responsibly. 

The version in the hymnal is a little bit different than the version that I was reading, but one of the first words in the version that I had, one of the first words in the psalm to describe God was the word “awesome.” And I remember back in the 1980s, for those of you who remember back that far, the word “awesome” was spoken so often it was practically worn out, right? It’s like things that were awesome back then included things like doing jazzercise in spandex outfits, or watching Matthew Broderick movies, or fighting over Cabbage Patch Kids at the small, or listening to big hair bands on our boom boxes, or watching Back to the Future. Totally awesome, right? Speaking as a teacher and a lover of the English language, I think it’s a crime to wear out a good word like that. But the word “awesome,” according to the Britannica dictionary, means something along the lines of feelings of fear, respect, and wonder. And I think the shepherds who saw and heard the angels on the night that Jesus was born were filled with awe. 

And the people who witnessed Jesus saying to a paralyzed man take up your mat and go home, and then saw it happen, were filled with awe. We know the feeling, but it’s hard to put into words both the feeling and whatever it is that causes the feeling. Awesomeness so often leaves us at a loss for words, but in a good way. So when it comes time to talk about Jesus’ ascension like awesomeness, it’s hard to find the words to describe it. 

And for the same reason, the events of that day are filled with awe. On the day that Jesus ascended, He basically led the disciples on the same path that they had traveled on Palm Sunday, only backwards. Instead of coming down into the city, they walked away from Jerusalem, up the Mount of Olives, out to Bethany. And if it hadn’t been made clear yet, it was certainly clear now that Jesus was not going to take on the powers that be in Jerusalem, Jesus had not come to replace the current King of Israel. 

Jesus’ kingdom, as he said, is not of this world. Instead, Jesus spent his last day on earth reviewing with the disciples all the teachings of the Old Testament and the writings of Moses and the writings of the prophets that have to do with the Messiah, with himself. And Jesus put it all together for the disciples from beginning to end, probably for the first time for many of them, hearing the entire story from start to finish, from Genesis up until that day, all laid out in a logical order. Because up until now, Jesus had given the truth to disciples in bits and pieces, bite-sized chunks, which is what a good teacher does. 

Good teachers know that students can’t master a subject without starting at the beginning and learning one lesson at a time, and practicing what they learn. I remember as an example, when we were in home ec class in high school, learning how to cook. Now they don’t start us off with baking wedding cakes, you know what I’m saying? (laughs) Right? We started out with something very simple. I think the first lesson was how to make scrambled eggs, which was something my mother had taught me years before, and it astounded me that the teacher told us that you had to actually measure the milk and the salt and the pepper. 

That’s not how mom showed me. But the point was to learn to be disciplined and consistent in our cooking, and which I have to admit I still am not. But anyway, the teachers start at the beginning for a good reason. And that’s what Jesus had done when he first started teaching the disciples. 

He had been with them for three years. And the subject matter was the truth of God, and the love of God, and how to live a life that pleases God. And he started with the basics, like any good teacher, which happened to be things like turning water into wine at a wedding, or teaching fishermen how to fish for people. After three years, the disciples began to understand that miracles are a part of life, or at least they’re meant to be, which is a lesson that I think our culture today has largely forgotten. 

And that’s another sermon for another day. On this particular day, though, Jesus was about to go home to God the Father. So he did what any good teacher would do. He had a review. 

And he reviewed Moses and the prophets and the Psalms and how Jesus was the fulfillment of them all, how Jesus was the one who would provide forgiveness of sins through his death and resurrection for anyone who wanted to change the direction of their lives. There was just one piece missing. The disciples, after Jesus left, would need God’s power to carry out Jesus’ mission when he was gone. They needed something Jesus had always had, something that Moses had, something that David had, something Elijah had, but something that most people did not have. 

And that’s the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And that’s the subject of Pentecost next week. For now, for today, what is it that we and they are seeing here on this mountaintop? Well, first off, I want to show you a couple of photos. You got those up, okay? This is the Chapel of the Ascension in Jerusalem, in Israel. 

This is, to the best of our knowledge, I mean, nobody’s absolutely exact after 2,000 years, but to the best of our knowledge, this is somewhere near where Jesus and the disciples were standing when all this took place. And of course, any place that Jesus stood that we’re kind of aware of, people built a chapel on top of it. That’s what they do. So this is the spot. 

The chapel, of course, was not there. This was just a mountaintop at that point in time. But if you stand in the door of this chapel and turn around, next photo, this is what you see. Jerusalem at your feet, ready to be prayed for, ministered over. 

That’s something. Thanks. That’s good. In this place, all that Jesus taught the disciples began to come together in the minds and hearts of the disciples, sort of, to a point. 

One theologian makes this suggestion, just kind of come at it from a different angle. She says, “Think about your cell phones.” She says, “If we don’t charge the phone, it dies.” Now of course it doesn’t actually die because it’s not alive, right? But that’s what we say when the batteries have no more power. So we charge them. And charging is an ongoing process. 

Every battery has an optimum charge time, the amount of time it takes to charge up the battery. Most smartphones, it’s about three hours. And you can’t just pull a new smartphone out of the box and start using it right away. It has to be charged first. 

And if we use it frequently, before it’s fully charged, eventually it will shorten the lifespan of the battery. So optimal charging, fully charged, is the best way to start. In a sense, the disciples need to be charged. They need power before they can do and fulfill what God has in mind for them. 

Jesus needs to essentially charge them, but He can’t do that before He goes home to God. So that’s He’s heading out. He’s heading back to God, back to the right hand of God. So Jesus tells the disciples to go back to the city of Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit. 

And in actual fact, the Holy Spirit is far more than just a power source. It is that. But the Holy Spirit is also a source of memory and knowledge. The Spirit brings to our minds the things that Jesus has said. 

The Spirit gives us insights deeper and more accurate than we could realize ourselves. And the Holy Spirit picks up where Jesus left off in terms of teaching. So Jesus says, “Wait until you’ve received power from on high.” He wants to make sure the disciples, both back then and now, were 100% taken care of before he went back home. He also gave them and us a mission to be witnesses to God’s truth and love in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 

This does not mean going out and doing street corner preaching. Also does not mean that all of us are sent to minister to the entire world. We are not, all of us, called to travel. When Jesus was talking about taking the faith to the world, He is speaking of taking our faith into all aspects of life, into our personal lives, into our homes, into our families, our relationships with our friends, and the people that we work with, and our neighbors, as well as the community around us, as well as the world through the church’s ministries. 

The world includes all of these things. The world includes the people who come to dinner for living stones. The people in our neighborhoods who are struggling to learn English. The people in our communities who need food or medical care or even just friendship. 

All of this and more is the world that we are called to. Someone once said to me, “Think of Jerusalem, “Judaea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” Think of it this way. Jerusalem is the neighborhood we live in. And Judea is the region we live in, so Pittsburgh or Western PA. 

And Samaria is our next door neighbor nations, that would be Canada and Mexico, and then to the ends of the earth. And each one of us has a part to play in this calling. We are not all called to all four areas. Each one of us probably called to just one, whatever our gifts are. 

Back in Jerusalem, after Jesus ascended, after the Holy Spirit came, the disciples broke bread together, faced opposition from the authorities together, healed people together, prayed together, cast out evil spirits and restored the dead to life together. And they learned to forgive together. And all of these things and more in the power of the Holy Spirit. Last thing before he leaves earth, Jesus blesses the disciples. 

They do not go forward alone, and neither do we. So why does Jesus leave? Well, because Jesus can do more in this world through us in the power of the Holy Spirit than he can do alone as a single human being. And Jesus also gives us a glimpse of our future, Because resurrection and ascension is where we are all headed. While we wait, we pray, “Thy kingdom come because that’s home.” That’s where our loved ones are who’ve gone before us. 

That’s where we are headed. This is, as the Apostle Paul says, “the greatness of His power for us who believe.” We are headed where Jesus is. We will follow in his footsteps, even though we can’t see exactly where they lead right now. But for now, we declare our God an awesome God. 

We sing songs of joy and praise to Jesus, who is king over all the earth. Luke says Jesus’ followers are always in the temple blessing God. And this is a good thing for us to do too, while we’re waiting. We don’t just come to church because the building is open on Sundays. 

We are here, we come to this place to be in God’s presence, in the presence of God’s Spirit, and to bless God as God has blessed us. We worship with great joy like the disciples did back then. And we look forward to blessing God and being blessed by God in that great and awesome reunion, awesome reunion in God’s kingdom. Amen.