Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 13 May 2018.
I still remember the feeling when I first drove solo after passing my driving test: rather nervous – and extremely cautious.
That was in 1974 – over 44 years ago. I was on my own, just me and the car on some errand for the planning authority. I don’t even remember where I was going or for what reason: only the state of mind. And even today, I still pray before setting out anywhere.
But imagine that you are going out under the watchful eye of a much respected instructor who trusts you to do the right thing, no matter where you are or what the conditions.
It’s a bit fanciful, but it sends us in the direction of today’s lessons. Now imagine that you have been given a life-long task by one who is trusting you anyway, even when you feel not just nervous but wholly unqualified, and quite unprepared. And yet he believes and trusts in you anyway.
And he has promised you that he is only a heartbeat away, and only a prayer distant. He even knows your needs and prayers before you do yourself, and is preparing His answer before you have even asked or thought about asking.
Now take it a stage further. He has placed His trust in you, and He actively wants to equip you to be even more effective in fulfilling the task He has given you.
Not only that but He has removed Himself from by your side physically, so as to be by your heart and soul for ever – and He is cheering you on as you make your own rather uncertain steps in pursuing that task.
And He has removed Himself to a place where He can be even more gloriously effective in supporting you, where He can be both at your side and at the side of Almighty God where He can plead for your needs and efforts.
Now we are getting closer to the meaning and importance of Jesus’ Ascension, moved from a limited earthly existence where He could only be in one place at one time to a realm where, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, He could be present worldwide and at all times.
This is a significant level of support in all aspects of personal and church life. He is there to empower us when we are serving Him and to correct us and encourage us as we need it.
And this is only the beginning for as Paul writes to the Ephesians, the vision is far bigger than our own misgivings or hesitations.
Paul sees it in terms of the fullness of God Himself as we are led deeper into the purposes of our own lives and as we find them fulfilled within the purposes of God.
Paul was saying that the church had already been given a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so as to be able to receive insights into the will and love of God, but that it had also been blessed with knowledge of the hope into which it was being called, generation by generation.
Whatever the shortcomings of their own sense of ability or of worthiness they were still to be endowed with an inheritance of which their minds could not even guess or imagine its wonder.
The ascension of Jesus took place not only to return Him to His place at the side of the Throne of Grace but in doing so, to take the lives of His friends and disciples there as well.
Jesus had prayed: ‘I in them and You in Me so that We may be perfectly one.’ And He meant it – so that our hearts may also abide in the presence of the fullness of God, even when we face the limitations of this present life.
In short, when Jesus ascended to heaven He did not leave us behind. Rather, He took us with Him. We may not see it or feel it but in the spirit we can know it and rejoice in it, and we can exult in it as we pursue His service in and through the details of our lives.