Mk 16, 15-20
by Vicar Revd Canon John Kafwanka K, St Augustine Church, Twickenham, UK
“Stop selling people things that are in the heavens because you have failed to make them relevant on earth.” Bishop Joshua Maponga, South Africa
This is a very powerful, challenging and also relevant comment and quote especially on the day we commemorate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is quite fashionable, among many preachers, to point people to or prepare them for heaven while considering life here on earth as of little relevance, and yet one of the key lessons, if not the Key lesson, we learn from the Ascension Day is the emphasis that the work/ministry of the disciples of Jesus was to happen and grounded here on earth.
In fact, the disciples were told in very clear terms that, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come [back to earth] in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
The earth is not a place to pass through, but a place God made both for humans and other creation to inhabit and flourish, a place where God’s love and glory has manifested in and through all of God’s creation.
During his ministry, Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God as being fulfilled among the people here on earth through and by his presence and actions.
The disciples witnessed so many things that Jesus “had said and done” during the three years of his ministry and their time with him.
Like other Gospels, Luke attempted and committed time and energy to put together “all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven.”
It was important for Jesus to leave the disciples – to ascend into heaven – for the sake of the Kingdom of God on earth and the ministry of the disciples.
The disciples needed the space to put into effect all that they had heard and seen from Jesus, and for the Good News of the Kingdom to spread to all corners of the earth.
For this to happen Jesus promised the disciples that, “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.” It was by this power (of the Holy Spirit) that the disciples were to continue the transformative ministry that Jesus had started.
So, the locus and concern of the life and ministry of the followers of Jesus, then and now, is here on earth, among humans and the whole created order. This is the point bishop Joshua Maponga was trying to communicate in his statement quoted above.
Jesus, the expression of God’s love to the whole creation, showed and declared through his teachings and deeds, a new way of being human, a new way of being in ‘just’ relationship (with God, with one another and with nature), and that is the way of God, the way of love – God’s love – and that is the ‘Jesus Way’.
The Jesus Way whose character and message are to be shaped by the life and message of Jesus;
that understands God’s love is for all humanity and all creation;
that knows that such understanding of God’s love is central to being Christian and to being a follower of Jesus;
that understands that unconditional love is the way – God’s way;
that strives to live by that love in a world often characterised by pain, hatred, violence, fear, hopelessness, greedy, abuse, neglect, and all;
that grew out of despair and fear, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, grew into confidence and hope.
And the ‘Jesus Way’ is to permeate the teachings and the deeds of the followers of Jesus; to permeate the whole of life, and the whole creation.
This of course would not be possible simply by the skills and powers of the disciples, but by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit.
Clothed with this power, the power of service – serving others (and not self-service), the power of love (counting the needs of others first, especially those on the margins), the power to embrace difference and recognise the value and dignity of everyone, the power to reconcile, the power to preach repentance with forgiveness without condemning – the simple Galilean followers of Jesus became a force for good, in their words and actions.
The disciples neither exhorted themselves nor wanted others to exhort them, but in everything they said and did, it was the name of Jesus Christ that was exhorted (Acts 3.12-13).
Many people started paying attention and got attracted to their message (the Good News of the love of God in Jesus Christ) and their lifestyle, and the movement grew one family at a time – beginning close to home, where the disciples were, in Jerusalem.
The Good News was for the whole world, and every part of the world was to be recipient as well as the bearer of the Good News. The simple and humble believers and not experts), filled with joy and love, became agents of the Good News, bringing joy and hope in neighbourhoods as they reached out.
This is the Jesus Way, where we are embraced by the never-ending unconditional love of God in Jesus, irrespective of our failures that make us focus on ourselves rather than on the way and will of God.
The Jesus Way speaks into the concrete situations of life – of pain, hatred, violence, fear, hopelessness, greedy, abuse, neglect, and all; pain, hatred, violence, fear, hopelessness, greedy, abuse, neglect, and pointing to Jesus with prayerful message and actions of healing, hope, justice, reconciliation, generosity, safeguarding, embrace, inclusion, dignity and honour.
Jesus did not take his disciples to heaven because the earth is a place of honour that God inhabits and his will is to be done here as it is in heaven.
by Rev John Kafwanka, UK