First Presbyterian Church
27 N. Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
Order of Divine Worship
Ascension Sunday
Sunday, May 28, 2017 – 10:30 a.m.

 

You are the light of the world. You are the body of Christ.

Gathering Music

Greeting: Assisting Elder: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.

Announcements Assisting Elder:

Preparing for the Word

Musical Call to Worship

Introit “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies” Hymnal 338, Verse 1

Call to Worship:
The Lord is risen! Alleluia!
Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed!
Why do you look up toward heaven?
Christ has risen; Christ will come again.

Time with Children

*Hymn 662 “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies”

Prayers of Confession
If we claim that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor…

Almighty God, you have raised Jesus from death to life, and crowned him Lord of all. We confess that we have not bowed before him, or acknowledged his rule in our lives. We have gone along with the ways of the world, and failed to give him glory. Forgive us, and raise us from sin, that we may be your faithful people, obeying the commands of our Lord Jesus Christ, who rules the world and is head of the church, his body. Amen.

Assurance of Grace
For God so loved the world that God gave the only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. People of God, hear the good news:
In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.

*Response of Praise, No. 581
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end, Amen, Amen!

Hearing the Word

Anthem “Song of Peace” Althouse

New Testament Readings: Acts 1:1-11
1In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Epistle Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23
15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Gospel Reading: Luke 24:44-53
44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you— that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Sermon “What’s Up?” Rev. David Ashby
Pop quiz! Complete this sentence: What goes up…. (must come down). Do you remember how you learned that lesson? And do you remember learning that there are a few noteworthy exceptions— things that go up but don’t ever seem to come down?!

About seven-eighths of her lifetime ago, my daughter Rebecca had one of those free balloons from a restaurant, and she wrapped it tightly around her hand, because she was old enough to understand that helium balloons are fond of escaping. We had long before had her first lost balloon, the one where she as an infant shrieked and cried and tried to reach the string as it floated away (an event as traumatic for the parent as the child!). We had long before had the attempt to retrieve the departing balloon by turning to Dad and saying, “Ok, that’s pretty floating up there; now bring it back.” All I could come up with was a very unsatisfactory scientific explanation involving air, helium being lighter than air, and wind blowing where it will— unsatisfactory, at least, for a three year old! Rebecca had long before discovered that loose balloons don’t respond to polite requests to come back, either, and that balloons, when they go away really go away, so the best thing to do is have mom or dad tie them to your wrist. So this particular day, Rebecca had done everything right, looped the string several times around her wrist and was preparing to wrap it around her car seat when a gust of wind snatched her bright balloon. And, being older and wiser, she patiently watched the speck floating out of sight, and then she turned mournfully and dejectedly got in the car, saddened by her loss.

Providentially, that was a week or two before Ascension Sunday that year, and the desperate, what-can-I-do-to-stop-this look followed by a miserable, well-I-guess-it’s-all-over look when it was gone, struck me as exactly the responses of the first disciples as they were at first panicked by the sight of their beloved Lord and Master disappearing heavenward, followed by the slump-shouldered dejection when he had departed their sight. So I keep using that story.

The disciples, not having the benefit of Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity making things— like apples— come down, could only assume that what went up went up and stayed up. Jesus had gone up to heaven… and that was that. Into that very obvious situation arrived a glimmer of hope: “10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” What goes up must come down, was the angels’ message to the stunned onlookers.

It is also the last word of the New Testament: 12“‘See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ 20The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” And it is between Jesus’ ascension into heaven and his return in glory at the last day where the church lives and works. We are “in between.” We are in between the already and not yet of salvation, between the already-won victory of Easter and Jesus’ resurrection and the not-yet victory of all believers in the great resurrection to come. We live after the decisive battle of the cosmic struggle but before the remnants of sin and death have all been defeated and mopped up. We know how it will end… but we still have to see how the story plays out. We live, as it were, in the space between “He ascended in to heaven,” and “From thence he shall return to judge the quick and the dead.” Jesus has gone up into heaven. And we cling to the reminder that “What goes up must come down.”

But, as we are reminded by Luke’s words at the end of his gospel and at the beginning of Acts, this is only one act in the great drama of Christ. It is even more obvious in the beginning of John’s gospel with his hymn to the Word made flesh, but here, too, we recognize that Jesus’ stay on earth was more the temporary part of his existence. Christ, the Word of God, existed before all time in the eternity of God, and that second person of the trinity was incarnate for our sakes and became flesh and was born and lived and taught and healed and died and lived again for our salvation. Jesus’ life on earth among us was more of an extended excursion from the heavenly realm, an out-of-town business trip, as it were, from heaven. Although the disciples were residents of earth, Jesus was not, and his departure from them was, in the grand scheme, his return to his rightful place in heaven. So, if in the comforting words of the figures in white, what goes up will come down, from the other, cosmic, perspective about Jesus, “What came down must go up.” And that puts us in the season between Jesus’ ascension in Acts and Jesus return at the end of Revelation, saying with the Seer, “Amen, Come Lord Jesus.” Yet it also leaves us in the season where we are Jesus’ hands and heart on earth, ministering in his stead to the least of our neighbors.

Yet, we must also keep another perspective, one Luke alludes to at the end of the gospel: “49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Jesus goes up into heaven in order that the disciples— living as they and we do in the already-but-not-yet season of ministry and evangelism— may receive the next part of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. This week they are told to expect the power of heaven to come down to them; next week, on Pentecost, the Spirit will come upon them like the rush of a mighty wind and a burning fire. And that cannot happen until Jesus has departed. Jesus knows that as long as he is present, the disciples will focus on him and follow him; in the future they will have to focus on the tasks at hand and they will have to switch to solo flight, trusting not Jesus himself but Jesus’ own Holy Spirit, only now within. Where Jesus was external to them, a physical presence, they must now have his Spirit internally, a spiritual presence within to trust and follow. And all that cannot happen until Jesus has removed himself from their sight, at least temporarily. What came down must go up so that the next— the Holy Spirit— can come down.

The thing Jesus does give them immediately is an instruction, the “Great Commission.” From Matthew 28:18-20: 18“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” Even before they have all the wherewithal to pull it off completely, they are given their work orders: share the gospel! We have an assignment; we have work to do for Christ and for our neighbors; we have things to do between Jesus’ departure and his return. What goes up goes so we can spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.

“1In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen,” begins the book of Acts. Luke begins his first book (his Gospel) similarly: 1Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us… 3I too decided… to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” Luke’s purpose is to connect the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection together, to connect those events with the events reported in The Acts of the Apostles, and finally to connect all of those events with the life-changing, salvation-bringing news of God’s love for each person who reads about Jesus. Luke is not reporting mere evening news; he is singing the Good News, inviting his readers to join the heavenly chorus. He wants Theophilus— and every Tom, Dick, and Harry— every Susie, Sally, and Jane— everybody— to know that Jesus came to live among us to share God’s love and descended into death and ascended into heaven and will descend again so that everyone will believe that Jesus is the Christ, and believing, have life eternal. Luke’s intention is that everyone will want to follow Jesus into the heavenly realms. What went up came down so that we, too, might go up.

But, in the end, after all this elevator-riding between heavenly and earthly realms, we must stop to understand the great cosmic “Why” behind it all. And that is perhaps the simplest part of all! All the up and down and already and not yet and beginning and end and all the rest, dear friends, comes down to the simplest truth of all: “For God so loved the world that God gave the only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” It all comes down to the fact that God loves us and wants to share with us the blessing of reconciliation and redemption and the eternal life to come. It’s a truth that does not disappear like a speck of a child’s balloon in the sky. It is a truth that stands forever, a truth in which we can stand forever, should we grasp it and believe it. It is as true today for us as it was for the disciples on that hill two+ millennia ago. It is this Ascension Day truth: What goes up came down because God loves us!

*Hymn 265 “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun”

Responding to the Word

Prayers for Others and for Ourselves
O gracious Lord Jesus, savior, friend, and hope of the world, we come to you with gratitude brimming over from our hearts, our souls singing your praise, our spirits joyful in your presence. We thank you for the goodness of creation, easy when we have bright sunny days, yet always overwhelming to contemplate the wideness of your creative love. We thank you for all the people who are close to us with whom we share our lives. For family, neighbors, churches, friends, we thank you. Beyond all else, we rejoice that you came to us in Christ Jesus offering us salvation for eternity and ascending to send us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. We can barely comprehend such love, and we thank you for it.

From thanks grows also concern for others who cannot celebrate so easily your goodness, those whose lives are hard, whose loads are burdensome, whose paths are strewn with stones— we ask your healing, redeeming presence to be with all oppressed by sickness, injury, declining physical or mental health, poverty, injustice, violence, abuse, drug or alcohol dependency, catastrophe, or any other powers threatening them, offer brighter vision to illuminate their darkness, alleviate grief, set feet on new pathways, cheer broken hearts. We pray for everyone married in May and June, whether this year or long ago. We pray for everyone who is making plans for graduation, for after graduation, for all awaiting the next steps in their lives. Remind all of your constant goodness, available with belief. Be with those far from where they want to be, in the military, travelling, wherever, with those rebuilding after catastrophe or war in a dozen other troubled places. We pray yet again for scenes of storm and tornado damage. We pray for seaborne migrants in such danger in the Mediterranean. The families of those injured and killed in the bombing in Manchester, in the attack in Portland, in the attack on the Coptic Christians in Egypt, in all un-expected violence come to mind as well. We offer now prayers rising from deep within our hearts in this holy silence….

Come O Spirit of Peace as we stop this Memorial Day Sunday to remember those who have served this country in our military and merchant marine in times of conflict and to remember those whose lives were lost in those conflicts. This weekend we also pause to pray for the families and friends of those we memorialize, for theirs is a bittersweet memory, a pride tinged with loss. We brush away tears along with those who visit the Wall or the World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC or other great memorials to fallen service members, with those who stand before small hometown memorials, with those who stand by the graves of loved ones. This weekend, we look back over the conflicts which have cost so many lives, and redouble our prayers for peace. Grant safety to those in our military, especially those now in harm’s way, and take away humanity’s thirst for war, that soon we really can beat our swords into plowshares, turn our spears into pruning hooks, our tanks into bulldozers and tractors, our nuclear warships into generating plants, and our guns into hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches to make a better, more just, and peaceful world.

Move within and through us, eternal God, giving each of us what we need to live closer to you, and so live happier, healthier, more productive, more satisfying, more loving, more sharing, more hope-filled lives. Continue your quiet, sometimes nearly hidden, care for this congregation which has brought us through this far and which will lead us homeward. Give clarity of vision and openness of heart to the leaders of this congregation, our search committee, and to every member and friend who seeks the new possibilities of continuing this congregation’s tradition of living, working, and sharing the Gospel of Christ Jesus, not just in this sanctuary, but outward through the doors and into Honeoye Falls and the world. Hear also the particular personal, private, and silent wishes, hopes, and questions of your people here gathered as we pray, saying

The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.

Presentation of Our Gifts and Offerings

Offertory

*Doxology
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

*Prayer of Dedication
Redeeming God, you call us to be one with you, as you are one with Christ. As his perfect love casts out our fear, and changes it to love, unite us by your Spirit of peace, that we may be one with you, as you are one with Christ. Amen.

*Hymn 8 “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”

*Charge and Benediction
Go forth now into the world secure in the knowledge of your acceptance before the Lord. Graciously accept life as it is given to you. Have the courage freely to decide as you must decide, and remember your obligation to every living thing. Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing always.

The grace of our Savior Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

*Choral Response “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds”

*Postlude