May 21, 2023 - Ascension Sunday

For the week of May 21-27 – Ascension Sunday

Morning Prayer Almighty God, Your blessed Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, ascended far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.  Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to His promise, He abides with His Church on earth, even to the end of the world; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (UM Book of Worship)

Hymn: #163 Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know

  1. Ask ye what great thing I know, that delights and stirs me so?
    What the high reward I win? Whose the name I glory in? Jesus Christ, the crucified.
  2. Who defeats my fiercest foes? Who consoles my saddest woes?
    Who revives my fainting heart, healing all its hidden smart? Jesus Christ, the crucified.
  3. Who is life in life to me? Who the death of death will be?
    Who will place me on His right, with the countless hosts of light?
    Jesus Christ, the crucified.
  4. This is that great thing I know; this delights and stirs me so:
    faith in Him who died to save, Him who triumphed o'er the grave:
    Jesus Christ, the crucified.

Psalm 68:1-4

1 Let God rise up; let His enemies scatter; let those who hate Him run scared before Him!

2 Like smoke is driven away, drive them away!
Like wax melting before fire, let the wicked perish before God!

3 But let the righteous be glad and celebrate before God. Let them rejoice with gladness!

4 Sing to God! Sing praises to His name! Exalt the One who rides the clouds!
The Lord is His name. Celebrate before Him!

Children’s Time 1 Peter 5:6-7

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

Children’s Message 

To humble yourself means to make yourself lower. This can be physically lower, like being on your knees or flat on your back, it can also mean challenging your perception of yourself mentally or deflating your ego. The easiest way to describe humbling yourself, is to change your perspective.

It is wonderful to think of God as a friend and a companion on the way, but it also tends to make us think that somehow we are equals, that God is our size. It can be comforting to see God this way, especially in times of isolation and loneliness, but it distorts how big God really is.

When we forget how big God is, it can be hard for us to think that God can take on our cares and anxieties, but that is precisely what God asks us to do, because God cares for us. God wouldn’t take on anything God couldn’t care for.

Maybe this week, try to see God in a different way, a way that helps you see the bigness of God so you can trust God more deeply.

Prayers of Intercession:  Thank You, Lord, for hearing our prayers for those dear to our hearts.  We now pray as You have taught us: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us, not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. 

Offering spotlight: Your Loving Choices is just as the name describes:  Loving Choices for women and girls facing a difficult choice.  They are without judgment, completely supportive.  To sponsor the ministry, see Cheryl Dent. 

Offering prayer: God of wisdom and guidance, steer us, we pray, through our anxious times.  The gifts we bring this day are a small part of all we have received.  Bless the gifts our hands have brought; bless the work our hearts have planned.  Ours is the faith, the will, the thought.  The rest, O God, is in Your hand. Amen. (adapted from UM Hymnal #587, Bless Thou the Gifts)

Hymn #395 Take Time to Be Holy

  1. Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;

abide in Him always, and feed on His word.
Make friends of God's children, help those who are weak,
forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

  1. Take time to be holy, the world rushes on; spend much time in secret with Jesus alone.
    By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;

thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

  1. Take time to be holy, let Him be thy guide, and run not before Him, whatever betide.
    In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord, and, looking to Jesus, still trust in His word.
  2. Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,

each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His spirit to fountains of love, thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.

Scripture Acts 1:12-14

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Peter, John, James, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James, Alphaeus’ son; Simon the zealot; and Judas, James’ son— 14 all were united in their devotion to prayer, along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.

Today’s messageWhen We Pray                Rev. Ron French

There is a story by Hugh Price Hughes titled, “The City of Everywhere.” In this story a man arrives in a city one cold morning. As he gets off the train, he sees that the station is just like any other train station except for one thing – everyone is barefoot. No one was wearing shoes. He notices a barefoot cab driver. “Pardon me,” he says to the driver. “I was just wondering why you don’t wear shoes. Don’t you believe in shoes?” “Sure we do,” says the driver. “Then why don’t you wear them?” asks the man. “Ah, that’s a good question,” the driver replies. “Why don’t we wear shoes? Why don’t we?” At the hotel it is the same. The clerk, the bell hops, everybody is barefoot. At the hotel coffee shop he notices a well-dressed gentleman at the table opposite him. “I notice you aren’t wearing any shoes, I wonder why? Don’t you know about shoes?” The man replies, “Of course I know about shoes.” “Then why don’t you wear them?” ask the man. “Ah, that’s a good question,” says the man. “Why don’t we? Why don’t we?” After his breakfast he walks out on to the street in the snow but every person he sees is barefoot. He asks another person about it, and points out how shoes protect the feet from cold. The person replies, “We know about shoes. See that building over yonder? That is a shoe manufacturing plant. We are proud of that plant and every week we gather there to hear the man in charge tell about shoes and how wonderful they are.” Then why don’t you wear shoes?” asks the man. “Ah, that’s a good question,” replies the man.

Dr. Robert Goodrich told this story in his book, What’s It All About? Then he asks, “Don’t we believe in prayer? Don’t we know what it could mean to our lives?

Of course we do; we know about prayer. Then why don’t we pray? Ah, that’s a good question. Why don’t we pray? Why don’t we? Sisters and brothers powerful things happen when people pray.

Our lesson from the Book of Acts takes place immediately following Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The disciples are in a period of waiting. Do you remember what Jesus had said to them just before his ascension? “While staying with them, He ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This,’ He said, ‘is what you have heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”         (Acts 1:4-5) Now the disciples were in that period of waiting for the promise of God.

Notice how Luke records it in today’s lesson from Acts 1:12-14. “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem – a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Peter, John, James, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James, Alphaeus’ son; Simon the zealot; and Judas, James’ son – All were united in their devotion to prayer, along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers.” Notice how they prepared themselves for the gift of the Holy Spirit, “all were united in their devotion to prayer….” Why do you suppose that was? What is there about prayer that they knew but we’ve forgotten?

Let’s begin here: they prayed to receive God’s power. Jesus had given them an impossible task. They were to go to all the nations of the world and make disciples of all people. They knew there was no way they could accomplish this without God’s help.

Years ago Mark Sanborn was on a cruise with his wife. This was a new experience for them and he was curious about the workings of this great ocean-going vessel. He visited the bridge of the ocean liner and spoke with the captain. Mark asked the captain about the roughest seas he had ever sailed in that ship.

The captain told Mark that he had been in seas with 90’ waves. Impressed, Mark inquired about how he had managed to keep the ship intact. The captain told him that while 90’ waves were daunting, the ship could negotiate them quite handily as long as the ship didn’t lose power. “If you lose power in the big seas in a boat,” he explained, “you’re in serious trouble. With power, the boat could stay perpendicular to the waves. Without power, the boat would drift parallel to the waves and be capsized or swamped.” Obviously you don’t want to be on a cruise ship in a great storm without power. Neither did the disciples want to be in a situation where they were witnessing about Jesus Christ to the sometimes hostile nations of the world without God’s power.

I wonder if that story doesn’t illustrate the problem with the church today. We seem to have lost power. We seem to be drifting rather than making an impact on the world around us. We are becoming more like the world than the world is becoming more like the kingdom of God. Could the problem be we have ceased depending on prayer?

A kindergarten class went to a fire station for a tour and some instruction in fire safety. The fireman was explaining what to do in case of a fire. He said, “First, go to the door and feel the door to see if it is hot.” Then he continued, “Next, fall on your knees. Does anyone know why you ought to fall on your knees?” he asked. One little boy said, “Sure, to start praying to ask God to get you out of there.” In a sense he was right. There is a time when prayer is the most appropriate response to a difficult situation.  Why do Christians pray? We pray for power to be what God has called us to be, disciples of Jesus Christ. We pray for power to do what God has called us to do, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of Lightstreet and the world. We don’t ask for power for our own selfish desires, but so we can fulfill God’s desires for us.

Joanie Yoder in the devotional, Our Daily Bread, tells about a friend who understands why we pray. She notes that most people own a calendar or an appointment book in which they record details of future commitments. She says her friend uses one in the opposite way. He doesn’t record key activities until after they have taken place. Here’s his approach: Each morning he prays, “Lord, I go forth in Your strength alone. Please use me as You wish.” Then whenever he accomplishes something unusual or difficult, he records it on his calendar that evening. “As you enter each day,” says Joanie Yoder, “ask God to strengthen and use you. You can be sure that as you look back on your day, you’ll praise and glorify the Lord as you realize what He has enabled you to do.” Don’t you think that’s a wonderful approach to prayer?

Mother Teresa was once crossing the border into Israel when a guard asked her if she was carrying any weapons. She looked the guard in the eyes and calmly said, “Yes, I have my prayer book.”

The early followers of Jesus prayed for God’s power. They also prayed to receive God’s presence. Jesus had promised them a gift. He had promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit. They didn’t know yet what this meant, but they would discover its meaning on Pentecost. And what it meant was that God would be a daily presence in their lives and would give them wisdom and comfort and the ability to do what needed to be done in every situation. I don’t think I even need to say that each of us needs God’s presence in our life for the very same reason.

The disciples of Jesus experienced God’s power in a magnificent way. It did not take the early church long to become a major force in the Roman Empire. But individually, the leaders of the church experienced torture and death because of their faith in Jesus Christ. If they had not felt that God was with them through the power of the Holy Spirit, they would not have been able to persevere. So, after Jesus’ ascension His disciples prayed constantly. They prayed for God’s power and they prayed for God’s presence.

And they prayed that they would stay centered in God’s purpose. Here is where we fall short as disciples of Jesus Christ today. We need to pray mightily that God will keep us centered on His purpose.

Many of you are familiar with the name Chuck Colson. Colson was a hatchet man for President Richard Nixon. He became a born-again Christian while in prison and he thoroughly committed to being a spokesperson for Jesus Christ.

Colson once told of being in a coffee shop with his associate, Fred Rhodes. “Two cheese omelets, one milk, and one ice tea,” Fred said to the waitress. After she took the order, Chuck and Fred reviewed the next day’s schedule. Then they had a rather long blessing. When they had finished, the waitress was standing nearby with their food. “Hey, were you guys praying?” she asked. “Yes, we were,” answered Colson. “Hey, that’s neat,” said the waitress. “I’ve never seen anybody do that in here before. Are you preachers?” They said no, but added that they worked in the same business. The waitress then said, “I’m a Christian. At least I once was.”  “What happened?” Chuck and Fred asked at the same time. A sad nostalgic look crossed her face. “I accepted Jesus as my Savior at a rally when I was a teenager,” she said. “Then I went to live in Hawaii. Well, I just lost interest, I guess. Forget I mentioned it.” “I don’t think you lost it,” Colson said gently. “You just put it aside for a while.” The waitress seemed thoughtful. “It’s funny,” she said, “but the moment I saw you guys praying I felt excited all over again.” “Once you accept the Lord,” said Fred, “He becomes a part of your life. You can try to turn away from Him… but He’s still there. He loves you, and like the prodigal son, will take you back.”

The next day they saw the waitress again. She told them that she had found a Bible study to join and she was going find a church, too. “I’ve come back,” she said. “Until that night,” writes Colson, “I had felt awkward praying over meals in crowded restaurants. But never again.”

At that moment in the coffee shop, as he prayed, Chuck Colson was centered in God’s purpose. He was doing just what God wanted him to do. And that’s what happens when Christians pray. Some people think prayer is simply begging God to fulfill their selfish desires. That couldn’t be further from the kind of prayers that were being offered up by those disciples after Jesus’ ascension. They were praying for God’s power. They were praying for God’s presence. And they were praying that they might stay centered in God’s purpose.

So, sisters and brothers, what happens when Christians pray? Great things happen. And why do they happen? Because we have God’s power, God’s presence and God’s purpose. What more could we ask for? So, why don’t we pray more? Ah, that’s the question.

Hymn: #496 Sweet Hour of Prayer

  1. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer! that calls me from a world of care,
    and bids me at my Father's throne make all my wants and wishes known.
    In seasons of distress and grief, my soul has often found relief,
    and oft escaped the tempter's snare by thy return, sweet hour of prayer!
  2. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
    the joys I feel, the bliss I share of those whose anxious spirits burn
    with strong desires for thy return! With such I hasten to the place
    where God my Savior shows His face,
    and gladly take my station there, and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!
  3. Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
    thy wings shall my petition bear to Him whose truth and faithfulness
    engage the waiting soul to bless.
    And since He bids me seek His face, believe His word, and trust His grace,
    I'll cast on Him my every care, and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

Go into your week with the blessings of The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit.