Preached by Michael Cheuk, May 17, 2015
Taken from Luke 24:44-53 NIV
Welcome to UVA Graduation weekend! Everywhere you look, you’ll see students wearing their graduation robes and caps. University spokesman Anthony de Bruyn says that about 3000 students and 18,000 guests are expected to attend graduation ceremonies on the Lawn each day.
The graduation ceremony is often called “Commencement Exercises” – commencement meaning beginning or starting, but for graduates, it probably feels more like an ending than a beginning.
Someone once said at his high school graduation that this would be the last time when they all would be together in the same place at the same time. There is happiness and joy during a graduation ceremony, but oftentimes, the joy is mixed with sadness at the realization that things will never be the same.
Last Wednesday night, we had a graduation ceremony of sorts when we gathered to celebrate the retirement of Bob Badgett as our Associate Minister. It was a commencement, a beginning of a new chapter for the Bob and Patti Badgett and for UBC, but it also definitely felt like an ending of an era. After the meal, folks were invited to share their thoughts with Bob and Patti. We heard comments from our children, our senior adults, and all ages in between.
They shared funny stories. Diane Mundell recalled her time with Bob at a children’s music camp. They discovered that their cabin had mice. All the kids and the chaperones stood on tables and chairs while Bob ran around “capturing” mice with a pot and disposing them.
There were heart-felt comments. Lindsey Marshall told Bob how much she was going to miss him. Alba shared how Bob was like a brother to him.
Then there were other comments that I can’t repeat here, given by Chris Owen in his roasting of Bob . . . and other people. But it was all in good fun!
During the sharing time, several people spoke what was in many of our minds: “What will we do without you, Bob? We will miss you!”
In today’s Gospel Lesson, we have Luke’s account of Jesus’ last moments on earth before he was taken into heaven. That was, in a sense, Jesus’ graduation from his earthly ministry, when he left his disciples in order to return to the eternal presence and glory of God. During that event, I imagine the disciples thinking to themselves, “What will be do without you, Jesus? We will miss you!”
The Ascension of Jesus, which commemorates Christ’s return to God, is only described briefly in the Gospels of Luke and Mark. It is also described in the beginning of the book of Acts. There, Luke the author describes Jesus being taken up before the disciples very eyes, until a cloud hid Jesus from their sight (Acts 1:9). As we read these passages, we are often filled with questions. How was Jesus taken up into heaven? Did he literally levitate, like a magician . . . and just kept on going until he was out of sight? Or did the Gospel writers use metaphorical language to communicate something that our human language cannot adequately describe?
However we interpret these verses, in all the biblical accounts, there’s not much descriptive detail to Jesus’ ascension. Of the ten verses of our reading in the Gospel of Luke this morning, only half a verse is devoted to Jesus’ ascension: “He left them and was taken up into heaven.” That’s the extent of Luke’s description. Maybe for Luke and for the community that he was writing for, they were less concerned with the question: “How did Jesus ascend or graduate into heaven?” and more concerned with another question: “What happens to the disciples (and the church) when Jesus is no longer with them physically?”
Last Wednesday night, many of our children and youth thanked “Mr. Bob” for his children’s sermons. When he was a child, Seamore Zhu sat in on many of Bob’s children’s sermons. Seamore is now a graduating senior in high school who will enter Dartmouth College this fall. He concluded his remarks to Bob by saying, “So, thanks again for what you’ve done for our church. I’d like to end by citing the biggest lesson I’ve learned from your children’s sermons: “The answer to every question is ‘Jesus’.” “Think about it. It’s true,” Seamore says.
To the question: “What happens to the disciples when Jesus is no longer with them physically?” The answer is “Jesus.” The disciples will continue on when they see Jesus as the key to understanding the Scriptures. In the moments before his ascension, Jesus was like a teacher giving a final tutoring session to his students before an exam. He opened their minds so that they could understand how he was the fulfillment of what was written about him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.
“What happens to the church when Jesus is no longer with them physically?” The answer is “Jesus.” The church will grow and expand when the disciples give witness to Jesus, preaching the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations, starting in Jerusalem. “You are witnesses of these things,” says Jesus. The disciples will be witnesses not out of their own power. Instead, they will be clothed with power from on high. We will learn more about this next Sunday as we celebrate the festival of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit comes to empower the disciples to preach and to witness to the crucified, risen, and ascended Christ.
“What happens to the disciples and the church when Jesus is no longer with them physically?” The answer is “Jesus.” The disciples and the church will carry on because Jesus will continue to bless. Luke writes: “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.”
Last Wednesday night, in his closing comments, Bob Badgett blessed UBC and told us to continue to do what we’re doing. He gave this advice to our young children and even to our adults: “Just be yourself. God made you the way you are. You are wonderful. You’ve been wonderfully made and created, and allow the Spirit of God to express yourself and your gifts in the way that God made you. . . . My philosophy of life has always been: ‘It’s no big deal.’ We serve a God who is sovereign, who knows everything about us. He made this day, and He knows everything that is going to happen in it, so we don’t need to make it a big deal… It’s no big deal. It’s going to be OK. God will provide for you, even after we’re gone.”
Bob speaks with wisdom. In our lifetime, there will come many periods of transition and change. There will come a time when we will lose people that we dearly love, and we don’t know how we can go on after they are gone. We ask the question: “What will we do without them?” The answer is “Jesus.” God will provide, just as God has provided for us Jesus Christ our Savior and Messiah. It doesn’t take away the pain and the loss, but in faith, we trust that God will provide.
To the question “What will we do without Bob Badgett?” the answer is also “Jesus.” God in Christ will provide. Our sovereign God will provide for us, just as God provided for those first disciples and empowered them to be witnesses after Jesus was taken from them. The sovereign God will provide for University Baptist, just God has provided for us in the almost one hundred and fifteen years that UBC has been in existence. God will provide, by raising others to give the Children’s Sermons, others to step up and organize Vacation Bible School, others to minister among our children, our senior adults, and all ages in between. During this time, we have an opportunity to ask how we may grow in our faith to minister and serve in ways that Bob and Patti Badgett have shown and taught us.
In the Gospels, Jesus taught his disciples with a progression of methods. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus taught his disciples by the methodology of “I do, you watch.” In Luke 6, Jesus chose his twelve disciples, and they watched and listened as Jesus healed the sick and taught the crowds.
Later, Jesus transitioned his teaching methodology to “I do, you help.” In Luke 9, when Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish, he asked his disciples to help arrange the crowd in groups of fifty, and distribute the food to feed the five thousand who were there.
By Luke 10, Jesus sent out seventy-two of his disciples into nearby villages, and basically said, “You do, I’ll help” as Jesus empowered them to heal and cast out demons in his name.
Finally, here in Luke 24, the time has come for Jesus to tell his disciples, “You do, I’ll watch.” Jesus is now delegating full authority to his disciples. He is entrusting them with the job he had done. In this last phase, the disciples are now empowered with the Holy Spirit to continue on the earthly ministry of Jesus, even as Jesus ascends into the heavenly realm and watches over them.
Similarly, I trust that the Holy Spirit will empower all of us as we are entrusted with some of the jobs that Bob had while he was with us.
I remember when I was about eleven when my Mom asked me to “babysit” my younger sister for about half an hour while she ran an errand. I was so joyful and proud that Mom trusted me with such an important task! This meant that I was growing up and becoming a “man,” ready to take on greater authority and responsibility. Perhaps Jesus’ disciples felt the same way also, since our passage ends with the disciples worshipping him and returning to Jerusalem with great joy. They stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Theologian David S. Cunningham writes: “Ascension Day is not so much about the physical act of ascension. . . Rather, it is concerned with the divine act of making space so that the mission of the church can begin. So long as God was in the world in human form, all eyes and hearts were fixed there. Jesus’ ascension makes space for the disciples to turn their gaze upon the world, where “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [the Messiah’s] name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
On this Sunday, we acknowledge the graduation of the ministry of Bob and Patti Badgett, and their first Sunday of absence among us. But even more so, we celebrate the graduation of the earthly ministry of Jesus, and we worship with joy because we have been entrusted to carry on Jesus’ earthly ministry. That’s what Jesus wanted for his disciples, and I’m pretty sure that’s what Bob and Patti Badgett would want for University Baptist Church.
Therefore, let us go from this place praising God, who continues to bless us and provide for us to be witnesses to the risen and ascended Christ.
 David S. Cunningham, Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide, “Ascension of the Lord.”