Sermon Starter: Ascension Sunday

March 1st, 2011

Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35, 1 Peter 4:12 - 5:11, John 17:1-11*

I imagine that one of the memories of Jesus the disciples treasured most in the days following his ascension was their last night with him, before he was arrested. He washed their feet, spoke to them of coming events, and perhaps most importantly, he prayed for them. Imagine being a disciple in the room as Jesus begins to pray to God on your behalf. What a powerful experience that would be to hear Jesus speaking to God about your faithfulness and loyalty! It was probably quite a difficult evening for the disciples. Jesus has been talking with them for some time about the events to come, hoping they would truly understand what was going to happen and, more importantly, why it would happen. He tells them directly that he would be leaving and that their lives would be difficult after that. Jesus emphasizes how the world would not be receptive to the disciples and their ministry. I am sure that the disciples must have been anxious and fearful about the news Jesus was sharing with them. And so, realizing their concern, Jesus does what he had always told the disciples to do: he prays to God. This time, though, he didn’t go to a private place as he often had, but stays with his dear friends and prays in their presence, offering a wonderful testament to the commitment of the disciples. After their years of participation in his preaching and healing work, Jesus wants to commend them to God as they take over his earthly ministry, and to ask for God’s protection over them. Ministry is challenging even in the best of circumstances. In contemporary society, where organized religion is suspect, pastors are often fighting an uphill battle that is taxing not just physically and mentally, but spiritually and emotionally. As we ask members to take our limited resources and spread the good news in a world of bad news, the result can be disappointment and discouragement. Yet, we know that Jesus is with us, in the midst of the ministry, praying, “God protect them!” Protect them from words that can wound their souls. Protect them from the false promises that seem so enticing. Protect them from the fear that can immobilize them. As the people charged with the Great Commission for this time, we can go into the world strengthened and energized by the knowledge that Jesus is covering our ministry in prayer. We are one with Jesus, sharing in one ministry to all the world. God will protect us.

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