Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven.
For 40 days after Jesus rose from the grave on Easter Sunday he walked the earth to establish eye witnesses so the world would be convinced that the resurrection was a real event and not a fairy tale as it is often described in our secular world.
People often think that proving the resurrection is our greatest challenge – convincing the world that Jesus rose from the dead because we have no physical proof.
I don’t think that is our biggest challenge.
The reality is that there is more evidence to prove a resurrection than to disprove it.
We have the account of an empty grave.
There was no body found when Mary went to the tomb.
This is further supported by Matthew’s Gospel that says the religious leaders paid the guards to say that they saw Jesus’ disciples carrying Jesus body away from the tomb.
They could easily have said that they themselves took the body away.
So an empty tomb is the reality especially since his body never turned up.
How easy wouldn’t it have been to make up a story that Jesus’ dead body was later found and yet this is never spoken about as an alternative story?
And Paul speaks about Jesus having appeared to over 500 eye witnesses including himself who was one of the most powerful enemies of Christians, approving their deaths and seeking to arrest anyone that called themselves a Christian – and now converted to Christianity and Jesus’ greatest missionary.
So, as I said, proving the resurrection is not our greatest challenge.
What is our greatest challenge?
I believe our greatest challenge is fulfilling Jesus’ commission that we heard in Luke’s gospel today to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to the entire world.
And we only have to look at what happened to Israel Folau who did just that when he called on all sinners to repent.
There is very little tolerance in our secular world today for us to preach a message of repentance and forgiveness.
There is very little tolerance in our secular world today to refer to people as sinners.
And yet that was Jesus commission to the apostles to proclaim forgiveness of sins to repentant sinners.
We can go into the world and attempt to have the world like and appreciate us.
We can do things like feed the poor – do charitable works – and a whole range of actions that help others.
And we should.
But we must remember what the mission was when he sent his disciples into the world.
That repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name.
There is no repentance if there is no sin.
There is no forgiveness if there is no sin.
There is no sinner if there is no sin.
Jesus’ death is meaningless if there is no sin.
There is no Gospel if there is no Law.
If we believe that Jesus came to die for our sins, then at some point we need to mention the word sin – and that’s when we lose people.
So how can we reach out into a secular world that rejects the idea of sin?
Luke gives us a clue in the commission by Jesus in both our Gospel reading and our first reading from Acts.
In the book of Acts he says – you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
In his Gospel he says – that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
In both instructions they were to begin their witnessing in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was their home town.
In fact Luke’s Gospel concludes with they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God”.
I believe that their proclaiming of repentance and forgiveness of sins was to their own lives first.
Their witnessing to the world would come by living out what they had witnessed – Jesus forgiveness of their sins.
Here in our church community and in our home community is where we are called to example to the world and witness to the world what Jesus has to offer.
How can we tell the world about God’s grace and the Gospel if we are not prepared to live it out in our own lives first?
How can we witness the forgiveness of sins to the world if we are not exampling it in our own lives first – in our Jerusalems – our families – our church community.
St Paul says in our 2nd reading about Jesus’ sacrifice for us – that he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
This, I believe, is how we best proclaim to the world what we believe as Christians.
But sadly we are often the worst examples of it.
And that’s not surprising because Satan knows how easy it is to target this area of our faith.
Later in the book of Ephesians Paul will encourage Christians – Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
Paul knows how easy it is for the devil to get a foothold into our communities – in our church and family community – by steering us away from repentance and forgiveness and pointing us towards our anger and instead of repentance we seek to justify our actions – instead of forgiveness we exhibit hatred and revenge.
Many times the New Testament points us towards ourselves as the living example of the Gospel.
Jesus says in John’s Gospel: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
That’s a clear message by Jesus that our witness as his disciples comes when we love one another as he loved us.
If we fail to love one another as he loved us then what does that witness to the world.
And we love one another as he loved us when we repent when we are wrong – and we forgive when we are wronged against.
Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name – beginning in Jerusalem – beginning in our lives – our families our church families.
Likewise St Peter in his letter says: you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.
If people see us disputing with each other they won’t ask us about the hope we have.
We have to get it right here first or we will undo all the work of Christ’s mission to the world.
We may believe we have a good reason to hold a grudge or to be angry and believe that we can never forgive this side of the grave as I often hear.
But think of Jesus’ last words from the cross to his Father about those who humiliated him and nailed him to the cross – Forgive them Father.
Friends, our Lord walked this earth for 40 days to establish eye witnesses of his resurrection which has been effective for nearly 2000 years.
Let us not undo the work of those who have laid down this testimony and foundation by failing to repent and forgive in our own lives – in our homes – in our church – in our Jerusalem.
If we can’t be witnesses of repentance and forgiveness in our Jerusalem, then we can ever be witnesses in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.