May 29, 2022 ~ Ascension Sunday ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
Here is our Ascension Sunday Quiz, and it is a tough one! What do the Rolling Stones, The Temptations, Dusty Springfield, Lee Michaels, Sam Brown, The Buckinghams, Elton John, and Marvin Gaye (with The Supremes singing back-ups) all have in common? Give up? At some point, they all recorded the song “Can I Get a Witness?” It was a gospel-style rock song which was popularized in 1963. While the song didn’t have remarkable lyrics, and the melody only consists of a few notes, it put Marvin Gaye on Billboard’s top 100 song list. The hook that inspired such popularity was the refrain that sounded like a revival preacher’s chant, repeated over and over: “Can I Get a Witness?” In other words, can anybody out there affirm that I’m telling the truth? Are you with me here? Can I get an “Amen?” “Can I Get a Witness?”
As Jesus talked with his followers in the days after the resurrection, he found himself repeating the same words over and over for them, too. They didn’t quite understand how Jesus’ reign on earth was supposed to work, if Jesus would not be with them in the flesh. They had finally wrapped their heads around the need for Jesus to die, and to be raised from the dead to prove that even death has no power greater than his. They understood the need for forgiveness of sins. But now that those faith-life concepts had been grasped, many of Jesus’ followers thought that he should get back to the task of overthrowing the corrupt Roman government. When and how would they plan the revolt? After all, it was time to restore the kingdom to Israel!!
The disciples were still trying to make Jesus into a military hero. They still didn’t understand that Jesus had come to save the whole world. Time was growing short. Jesus knew he would not be with them much longer. But the only way to help them see the truth was to tell them repeatedly. So, just as he had done before on the Road to Emmaus, Jesus started at the beginning.
First, Jesus repeats what he has been telling them – and us – all along: since the beginning of creation, God’s plan has been clear. Jesus is the culmination of the whole story up to now. Every bit of his life and ministry is the answer to Old Testament questions, the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. Jesus is the One sent by God, the Savior of the world.
Like the disciples, we might say, “Yes, Jesus. So what now? Now that you have topped every miracle in the history of God’s people, now that you have even defeated death itself, what are you going to do now? Are you finally going to restore your reign?” And today we might add, “When will you conquer racism.” “When will the gun violence stop.” When will people learn to love and respect one another?”
Jesus lifts up his hands — as Moses did when he blessed Joshua as the one who would lead God’s people into the promised land. Jesus lifts up his hands in blessing, as Elijah did when his successor, Elisha, asked for a double portion of Elijah’s prophetic spirit. Jesus lifts up his hands, with the marks of the nails still showing, and Jesus blesses his followers. Then he says, in effect, “It’s up to you. You are going to be my witnesses.” And he’s gone.
I don’t know about you, but if I had been standing there, looking up at the soles of Jesus’ feet disappearing into the clouds, my natural inclination would probably have been something like, “Wait a minute! What’s happening? How can we possibly do and be all of that?” I would have a list of detail-oriented questions, which I would never have the chance to ask. I might be frozen in my own quandary.
But that isn’t what happened with the disciples. Luke tells us instead “they worshiped him [Jesus], and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”
Every time I read this passage, I wonder about the transformation that happened to the disciples between Easter morning and the Ascension. They have become completely different people. After they learned of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter, the disciples hid out in a locked room as they were filled with fear. After the Ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy, went to the temple, a public place, and worshiped God.
What happened in the meantime? They became witnesses! They embraced their new identity as Jesus’ disciples who are witnesses for the Savior, Jesus, in the world. And that is what God asks of us as well. God is NOT asking us to add more things to our “to-do list.” God is asking us to make a “to-be list.” Jesus does not say, “Go DO witnessing.” Jesus said, “You WILL BE my witnesses.” Not that you need more items to check off, but that each item on your To-Be list makes you more like Jesus.
Jesus told his followers that they would be “clothed with power from on high.” Next week, we will celebrate that initial baptism in the Holy Spirit that came like a mighty rushing wind on Pentecost. This, another life-shaping gift from God, will solidify each recipient’s identity as a witness for our Triune God: Creator, Savior, and Spirit.
“Can I Get a Witness?” Jesus asks us today! “Can I Get a Witness?”
Creator of life,
We do not know the face of the future,
any more than your disciples did.
Like them, we have many questions:
how to live
how to bear witness.
Like them, we thirst for the spring waters of the Spirit
to inspire us in our living
to give us a heart language in our testimony.
You have been raised in glory
that we might rise with dignity.
You live in power that we might live in peace.
You are present everywhere
that we might be fully present in our own lives.
This we believe and to this we witness. Amen.