To the Ends of the Earth

The following message was given on Sunday, June 1 with the scripture of Acts 1:6-14 and John 17:1-11. The title was To the End of the Earth.

It is hard to believe that Disney’s Pixar Department produced its first film in November of 1995. Thinking about being in 2014, it is hard to think of something so “modern” as being from before the year 2000. I actually think it was before Disney owned Pixar, but I might be wrong on that, I just seem to remember that Pixar stood on its own for a short time, but that is not really our issue. Let me put it into this perspective; a child born in Nov. of 1995 would have graduated from high school this year. In other words, a child born at the same time as Pixar would never have known the world before Buzz Lightyear the Space Ranger and his famous; “To infinity and beyond.” Interesting how we can accept that slogan from a made up space suit wearing, cartoon character and think nothing of it.

Our message this morning is titled to the end of the earth. I would venture to say that when we think of something that is the end of the earth or to the ends of the earth, we think of something far, far away. C. S. Lewis in his Narnia series wrote a book called, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the characters were sailing away to what seemed to be the end of the earth, or the edge of the world.

If the truth be told, and I have done some studies of the frontier of the United States, and except for the areas of land that are now Alaska and Hawaii, we live in the last frontier of the United States. This region right here, or perhaps just a little west of here, was the last frontier of the mainland of America. The land of the western part of the Dakotas, especially South Dakota, was the last of what was homesteaded. 1890 is considered by many authors to be the closing date of the American frontier, so when I used to ride in the track or volleyball bus to McIntosh or Lemmon for meets and games, and we joked, that though it wasn’t the end of the world, but you could see it from there, we weren’t so far off.

Yet we cannot think of our land as the last to be civilized, that honor seems to be reserved for South America. As of 2008, there were still a few tribes living in the jungles of Brazil and Peru that had never come in contact with the outside world. I suspect there might be other remote areas in some other parts of the world, but perhaps we won’t know until someone finds them. Interesting thought though, where is the end of the earth? Where is infinity? Where is beyond?

The story we read in the gospel of John is a prayer that Jesus spoke to God about himself and his disciples on the night that he was betrayed. John is the only gospel that gives a long account of the things that Jesus said to the disciples between the time when he told Judas to go and do what he had to and when Judas and the officials met up with Jesus and the others in the garden. It is His last night with the disciples in the capacity as their earthly leader, and He is cramming in as much information as possible. The other gospels don’t tell us all of this information, but John, John the disciple must have been hanging on every word, and he puts it into his gospel to share it with the world, even the end(s) of the world, even us.

Jesus prayer is for God to just get the action rolling. Jesus is ready for the final phase of His ministry on earth. He is ready to go through death so he can get to the resurrection, and to the part that we are about today, His ascension. Jesus is ready to have the whole business over so that the world can know the glory of God and what God is capable of doing. Jesus wants to have the ultimate battle with the forces of evil over and done with, so that he can take His rightful place, the place He occupied before coming to earth. And He doesn’t want to be there just to gloat or Lord it over anyone; He wants to be there to have a better ability to help those who are left behind. Think about this, as selfish as it sounds, without his death and resurrection, we would not have the ability to have our prayers answered even once. It is only his resurrection and Ascension that makes it possible.

We might not think much of it now, but there was a time when Ascension Day was on the calendar and celebrated in the churches as an actual religious holiday. I can remember as a young girl my mother commenting that it should be considered one of the holiest days of the church year and then complaining that it was no longer observed. According to the note on the common lectionary, May 29 would have been the date to observe it this year. That would have been this past Thursday. I guess church on a random day in the middle of the week at the end of May is not really how we do things anymore. I suppose it isn’t the modern thing to do.

The scripture in Acts give us what sounds much like an historical accounting of the day when Jesus left the earth. It gives us facts in terms of who and what and when and where. We are told that the ascension happened 40 days after his suffering, meaning his death. It tells us they are at the Mount of Olivet as in the Mount of Olives and that it is a week’s journey from Jerusalem where they have been staying. It also lists all of the people who were together, which is more than just the disciples, again as we learned during Lent, there were woman there including Mary, the mother of Jesus, and some of his brothers.

Although Acts is mostly about the disciples and what they do in the first years in establishing the church, it is really about the Holy Spirit and the work that is done when the Holy Spirit is sent to the followers of Jesus. It is about the witnessing they are able to do because of the spirit. It is about what they are able to do because Jesus has returned to his place at the right hand of God. We know this because of what the angels told the disciples as they looked into the heavens to see where Jesus ascended.

So many times Jesus refers to himself as being “lifted up.” So often that phrase is considered to mean lifted up as in how Jesus is hung on the cross, crucified on the cross. But what if “lifted up” also refers to when Jesus ascends into heaven at the end of His time on earth? What if lifted up is the ancient version of “To infinity and beyond?” I don’t mean to be glib or trite or trivialize the meaning of the ascension. But what if this is all about how Jesus tells us that he is going on ahead to prepare a place so that He will be waiting for us so we can be together in through infinity?

But what is it that we are to do until then? In the passage we read today in Acts it says that just before he ascended, Jesus tells the disciples to be His witnesses even to the ends of the earth. It is the same for us; Jesus wants us to share what we know about a relationship with him. And if we look back to the prayer in John chapter 17, we see that Jesus prays to God about protecting those who were given to him, those who were and are his disciples. He asks for this protection for us, “so that they may be one as we (meaning God and Jesus) are one.” Jesus wants us to be as close to God and Jesus as they are to each other, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, that relationship is possible. That they may be one is the motto of our church. I guess it was chosen with that relationship in mind.

Lately I have been trying to resolve how some of this works in our busy lives. How do we do all of these things while continuing on with our daily lives? We can’t all be called to walk away from everything we know and fly off to a third world country to do mission work, or where do we witness? Where is our “ends of the earth?” Recently, I found something that was said by Mother Theresa. This is what it was: “I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” This week and the next, as we go about our business, as we say our prayers and do what we believe is our task, let us remember those words. Let us remember that when Jesus left his earthly mission behind, He gained his real earthly mission, and it is we who are left to be His witnesses, to infinity and beyond. Amen!

And on the bottom of all that, Happy Birthday Aunt, see you at the airport tomorrow night.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Glenda zimmermam
    Jun 02, 2014 @ 00:36:22

    Another good sermon, LuCinda! Will see you at nine p.m. Monday night! I always say lots of prayers on a plane. Not because I am scared, but because Laura Ingalls climbed up a mountain to pray and they couldn’t find her. When her pa finally found her and asked her why she ran away so high, she said that the closer you are to God, the more likely He is to hear you. She took it literally, of course, but it always helps to pray! Thanks for the birthday wishes. Got calls from two of your sisters!

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