Eyewitnesses of Every Age!

Kenora                                                Ascension Sunday

Year B

16 May 2021

Acts 1:1-11

Psalm 47

Ephesians 1:15-23

Luke 24:44-43

God unheld by word or wall: lift us from dullness and cynical contempt; make us ready for your Spirit of transforming power; and turn our hearts to the mending of the world, through Jesus Christ, the name above all names. Amen.

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Isn’t it interesting how different people see things in different ways? We’re all eyewitnesses but what each of us sees might be different than the person standing next to us seeing the same event.

Such different interpretations to witnessing the same event gives us a whole host of murder mystery literature, the rise of such “great detectives” as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. It gives us “conflicting eye witness statements” to events and to crime dramas, and to occurrences all around us.

But Jesus today invites us to be witnesses of all that he’s done that God has done, that the prophets and even the psalms testify to about the coming of the Messiah for the sole purpose of breaking the bonds of sin and death that forever kept us away from the loving embrace and inclusion of God in our lives.

So, Jesus, in today’s passage from Acts, makes each of us witnesses of these things.

Jesus invites us to accept the Holy Spirit into our lives and to share all that we know and all that we’ve learned from him, about him, through the pages of the bible, through the interpretations of scripture, through the gospels that make up the core of our faith and its expression in every action of our lives.

So, isn’t it interesting that we can look at the same thing and come up with different interpretations of what we’re looking at and how to apply it to our lives?

We’re told: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After 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.” (Acts 1:1-3)

And naturally our first question, when we read this is what else has this author written? And why is it mentioned here? Personally, I always find it interesting to recall that the author of the gospel of Luke has gone out and researched and probed and compiled his gospel in order to aid Theophilus in his journey of faith. Luke was Theophilus’ eye witness, and he has become ours as well.  

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Lk 1:1-4)

So, we’re able to see that Luke seeks to provide a cohesive statement of faith, of the miracles and the life of Jesus for the sharing and fostering of faith in those around him.

But like everyone who writes a best seller, you just can’t leave a cliff-hanger like the ascension there. It needs to be followed up with what happened after that, even though it ends with “and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Lk 24:50b-53)

And so, as a follow up, as the next chapter in the story, we find the early years of the church chronicled in the Acts, aka The Acts of the Apostle: Luke’s ‘killer sequel.’

But he’s not the only one out there writing things down to help us grow in our lives of faith, to help those who were not eye witnesses to become them and to so share the message of God’s love further and further than its’ been before.

Just looking at the New Testament, we find four different accounts of Jesus life and ministry written from different perspectives different viewpoints. These are our gospels.

And then after the gospels we find Acts chronicling of the early years of the church, we find the writings of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles as well as other authors.

We know that this is a book that points us, continually to Christ, to faith, to a life lived in the light of God through Christ’s efforts and teachings. In its own eye witness accounts, it makes each one of us eye witnesses, as well. But in saying that, sometimes how that story is told makes all the difference.

Going back to the idea that we have 4 gospels, all chronicling the life and ministry of Jesus may seem redundant, but they reinforce each other along the way, because each was written for a specific audience, and we are able to benefit from all of their accounts.

A good example could be on getting directions to St. Alban’s.

A simple straight forward way to do it is to recite the current physical address of the church building: 312 Main St. S. Kenora, ON. We are able to see this as direct and straight forward as reading the gospel of Mark.

It works. But another way would be to describe where St. Alban’s started, on First Street North in 1884, but, being constructed of wood, and being far from sources of water, it burned down. (Now someone who knows the history better than I do can flesh out the eye witness account with the heroics of the local fire department, and those members who came to help with that fire.)

But the story teller wouldn’t stop there because we’re in St. Alban’s today, so we have to carry on by telling that we built the church again on First Street North, in the same location, by 1893.

Unfortunately, that building burned down as well. And once more a great tale of tragedy because it was also made of wood, and, once more it was too far from the water’s edge could be told to the one seeking directions to St. Alban’s.

But that story’s not over, because the church then moved from First Street North and was rebuilt of stone in 1917, in its current location on Main St. South, closer to the waters edge.

That would work as well, although it takes time in the telling. But in doing it this way, we become acquainted with the life and the history of St. Alban’s in the Kenora area. We’re draw into the tellers tale, and we become eye witnesses when we find where the original church stood on the hill overlooking the down town area.

At the same time, each answer of where to find St. Alban’s tells you of the location of St. Alban’s, but the second fills you in on a community that is resilient, and resourceful, and determined to continue to come together and, if necessary, rebuild what is needed so that we are able to continue to be St. Alban’s, in Kenora, still today.

So here we are able to find parallels with Matthew and Luke’s gospels where much effort is found in striving to tell a fuller more complete story, account, eye witness statement of what it means to be Christians who call St. Alban’s home.

But that’s still not the end of this example, either. That’s still not the final description one could give on where to find St. Alban’s.

After all, we are, each one of us, who calls St. Alban’s ‘home,’ the church.

We, each one of us, carries the mission of the church into the world, and so the questor, looking for the church could, really in answer to their question of where to find the church, be given the addresses of the members, and told that this is where the church resides.

It resides in each of our lives, in each of our hearts, in all of our actions, even when we’re unable to gather in the physical building, at the moment. And to complete our equation of what it means to be eye witnesses with four gospels, this would be closer to John’s gospel, when we read it, and become reacquainted with his ‘eye witness statements.’

So, what then does that say about how we witness to the work of God in the world, in the bible, in each of our lives?

We continue, today, to embrace, to learn about and to emulate the life of Christ and those of the early church, in and through each of our lives.

We, each one of us, through this have become those eye witnesses.

Do we agree on absolutely every detail? Do we tell our accounts, our stories of Christ acting in our lives, and in the lives of those who came before us in the same way? I hope not.

And I hope not because our strength is in the fact that my story, although it has the same beginning, has travelled different roads than yours, and yet we’ll share the same ending, one day.

In my own life, I am grateful for the gospel writers. I’m grateful for Luke who carried on with the stories so that we can emulate them in their actions to live out the life of faith and the gratitude of Christ.

I’m grateful for the early evangelists for opening the way for each one of us to follow where they have trod, and so that we are able, in turn, be that example for others to follow.

We are the example for those who follow us to be able to, in their own way, tell their ‘eye witness accounts’ of faith and the gospel and the role of Christ still today and tomorrow for them, for us, and still to be that example for yet others who will follow them, too.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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