Text: Acts 1:1-11
Ballanger's Esso was the site of my first real job. I was only 16 and still wet behind everything, but Mr. Ballanger hired me anyway. He was a tall and skinny man, though he was very strong from years of labor at that service station. He had twinkling blue eyes and always wore that old Esso (now Exxon) hat and a uniform of sorts. He was one of the leading citizens of Bridgeton, my hometown. The fact that he hired me to work there was no small thing.
Well, there's a lot more to running a service station than you might think. I know it took me at least four months to learn the basics. I learned how to pump gas, check oil and tires, clean windshields, change oil and tires, even how to operate his aged cash register.
Maybe one of the most important things I learned was that this was a lot more than a service station. It was a place where people could always come and find a friend. Mr. Ballanger was the leading friend of the town. He knew how to treat people. His was a "service" station in more ways than one. From him I learned a lot about just how to treat people. I saw him on more than one occasion help needy travelers, often not charging them a penny. Add to this all the many people in our little village nestled on the Neuse River who had found him a friend in words and deeds.
Then the summer came and he said to me one day, "I have to go away for awhile. I'm leaving you in charge. I've got a telephone number where you can reach me should the need arise. I'll be back. But until then, I am counting on you to keep things going here. Think you're up to it?"
Well, I nodded my head before I even thought about it.
But when I had time to think about it later, I felt two conflicting things.
First, it made me feel great. This meant he trusted me, he believed in me, and thought I was ready and able to carry on for him while he was away. That was a pretty awesome feeling.
But the second feeling I had was being overwhelmed, was doubt. This was a BIG responsibility. Was I really up to it? I mean, I always had him there when I had a question or didn't know what to do. All I had to do was just go inside the station and there he would be sitting in that old office chair of his sipping a small Coca-cola (glass bottle).
As I thought about it, however, I was reminded that I had his number and knew that I could call him anytime. And, also, he was coming back and he thought I could do it until he returned.
I could not help but think about all of this when I read the story today about the Ascension of Christ. For a long time he had been selecting his disciples, training them, and even those precious days after his resurrection he was preparing them for what was ahead - his going away, his return to the Father. Now that has taken place.
He felt, you see, that now they were ready. He had to go away. He could not be with them in the same way he had. But they knew how to contact him, knew that he was just a prayer away, that he promised, in fact, to send them another Comforter, and that one day he would return.
So, honored by such trust, humbled by the task ahead of them but confident in him, they set out to continue his work - to be his witnesses there and throughout the world.
He has called us, too. He is training us, teaching us, preparing us, too, to continue his work. He has promised us that same Holy Spirit to empower us to continue his mission in the world, promising to be only a prayer away and to return one day.
It seems to me that that mission is kind-of like being a service station. The church exists to serve Christ and the world. We should be a community of servants, persons who embody the life, the values, the mind of Christ himself, reaching out to the needy, sharing the Gospel of love and forgiveness, being peacemakers, and working for the good of all people in the name of Christ.
It is an awesome task he has entrusted to us. But he believes in us. He's provided all we need to continue his work.
Perhaps you have never heard of Giacomo Puccini. He was an Italian composer. He left the world some wondrous music. But in 1922, only 64 at the time, he was diagnosed with cancer. Though very ill, he continued to work on the opera Turandot, which many people consider to be his best. Many people tried to convince him not to waste his limited energy on a piece he could not possibly finish but he pressed on.
When he death was near, he said to his students:
"If I do not finish Turandot, I want you to finish it for me."
He did not finish the opera. Immediately after his death his students gathered together all of the scores and his notes, studied them with great care, and then finished the opera.
The opening performance took place in 1926 and was conducted by one of Puccini's students. When he reached the place where the his teacher had stopped composing the conductor put down his baton, turned to the audience and said to them, "Thus far, the master wrote, and then he died."
No one moved and no one made a sound for several minutes. Then he picked up his baton again and smiled through his tears. He said, "But his disciples have finished his work."
Tears flowed with the music and the sound of the applause went on and on.
Let us pray:
Risen, ascended Lord, how you trust us. You have handed over your ministry into our hands, feeble, frail, and sinful. Yet, you trust us to continue it. Forgive us when we have failed you, when we have not followed the notes, the score you have already written and tried to strike out on our own direction. Help us to so know your mind and spirit, O Christ, that we can continue the greatest composition the world has ever heard, not so we can get applause, but that the whole world might be touched by the love, grace, and beauty of your divine music. Amen.
What Happened Here?
To live in Heaven
by Dr. Robert Crouse
Going and Coming -- Ascension Day Sermon
by Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Ascended and Still Present
by The Rev. Charles Henrickson
Three Wonders of Ascension
by The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove
Ascension Sermons and Bible Commentaries
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