Headed in a New Direction, May 24

Headed in a New Direction

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville United Methodist Churches


This last episode of Jesus and the disciples in Luke is essentially the same story as the first episode of Jesus and the disciples in Acts.  You probably noticed that – that you heard the same story in two out of the four readings.  Count yourself a Bible scholar.  That’s why scholars speak of Luke-Acts as two volumes of one work, by the same author.  The Acts version has a few more contextual details – that Jesus left the disciples forty days after the resurrection, for example.   The Acts Ascension story, in chapter 1, is an introduction to the Pentecost story, in chapter 2, which Luke names as happening fifty days after the resurrection, so the timing of Jesus’ leave-taking, asking the disciples to wait, is a useful preparation for what follows.  We’ve heard a lot of stories this Spring about Jesus saying good-bye to his disciples as he summarizes what he wants them to remember.  Many of the gospel readings from Holy Week through Ascension are from John’s account of Jesus’ last discourse with his disciples on Thursday night, and from John’s and Luke’s resurrection stories, where Jesus takes the opportunity to explain who he is, what the scriptures say about him, and what they are to do with all this information.  Trust Jesus, trust the Father, love your neighbor, proclaim forgiveness, wait for the power to come.   These instructions are given to the disciples – here in Acts it’s only to the eleven; in Luke and John there may well have been more than eleven, but the wisdom is given over and over again to essentially the same group of people.  And this is after Jesus and his disciples spent months together preaching and teaching and healing.  You’d think they would know all they needed to know by then.  I find it comforting that they need to hear it again and again.  I learn like that, through repetition and hearing things again when I’m in a new place.  I catch things the tenth time I hear them that I missed the first, second, fourth, and seventh times through.


Today, May 24, is Aldersgate Day, the day in 1738 that John Wesley, a priest in the Church of England, went to a Bible study with his friends the Moravians.  Listening to a reading of Martin Luther’s Preface to the Romans, John felt his heart ‘strangely warmed.’  He wrote in his journal that he finally grasped that Jesus’ grace and forgiveness which he’d preached about as an ordained priest for ten years now, was available to him.  “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  Three days earlier his brother Charles had a similar experience, feeling a strange palpitation of the heart after hearing Jesus speak to him.  “I waked under the protection of Christ, and gave myself up, soul and body, to him. 


These are both wonderful stories of events that changed the lives of these two brothers, John and Charles Wesley, and through them, changed the world.  The two were a team – John the careful theologian, powerful preacher, and thorough – Methodical, even – organizer of preachers and lay people; Charles the poet, whose hymns have touched the heart of millions of Christians over the generations.  All of today’s hymns are by Charles Wesley.  There are fifty-two of his hymns in this hymnal, which means we could sing a Wesley hymn every week for a year with no duplication.  There are two more in the Faith We Sing.  And there are thousands more.   


Both John and Charles remembered these powerful experiences for the rest of their lives – but neither one was converted by new knowledge.  They had grown up in the church; they studied the Bible thoroughly in college, even forming an extracurricular prayer group that met regularly to focus on the practice of their faith.  They knew the gospel; they had heard of God’s love and grace from their childhood.  The good news that warmed their hearts was not new news.  But it hit them hard this time; it touched them deeply in a way it hadn’t before.  We are all better off for their encounters with the truth and power of the Spirit during that week two hundred and eighty-two years ago.  These three United Methodist Churches, Catskill UMC, Quarryville UMC, and Simpson Memorial UMC, trace our existence to that movement of the Spirit in John and Charles’ lives, as do all churches that call themselves some variety of Methodist or Wesleyan or Nazarene. 


I trust you’ve heard this story of Aldersgate before.  I trust you’ve heard Jesus’ words to his disciples, too.  Perhaps like John, you’ve had your heart strangely warmed by the power of the Holy Spirit, convincing you of God’s mercy for your sin and God’s deep and abiding love for you.  I hope you know that forgiveness and love in a deep place in your soul.  And I hope you are still listening.  Because even when we have heard the gospel and claimed it as our own, there is more that God has to say.  Peter listened to Jesus throughout his ministry; he heard all he said at the last supper, he witnessed to the risen Christ and heard Jesus open the scriptures to him and his companions to all that God was doing through Jesus.  He grasped enough of the truth of what Jesus was about that he was the one to preach to the crowds on that Pentecost Sunday, explaining the coming of the Holy Spirit.  And he continued to learn.  The tenth chapter of Acts tells about Peter’s eyes being opened to God’s welcome of the Gentiles to the community of the Way of Jesus.  God guides Peter over and over again to new understandings and new experiences of power and love. 


God’s got new opportunities for you, too. Even if you’ve known the power of the Holy Spirit in your life for years.  Even if you’ve been a follower of Jesus for decades.  We’re living through a new time today.  We’ve been apart for months now, and the next few months, maybe longer, won’t look much like what we knew before.  There will be regular use of masks in public and limited opportunities to be with large groups of people.  There have been almost 100,000 deaths in the US to Covid-19 since March, and significant job loss due to the economic downturn.  These are tough times.  The basics of following Jesus haven’t changed, not since Wesley’s time, not since Jesus’ time. Trust Jesus, trust the Father, love your neighbor, proclaim forgiveness, claim the power of the Spirit.  Hearing it today may change your life, or change the focus of your life.  Simpson Memorial UMC knew Jesus called us to love our neighbors.  We decided in March, just as things began to close down, to take on the ministry of a Blessing Box – a big box open to the public to share food and toothbrushes and diapers and other necessities with whoever needed them, free for the taking.  That box went up by April 1.  The Catskill UMC mission committee also heard love your neighbor, saw that Palenville set up a Blessing Box, knew that lots of community members were losing their jobs, and heard the Spirit suggest that this church, too, could move forward with a Blessing Box.  It should be up by the end of the week.  Many of you took on the task of making masks – something you’d probably never done before, but there’s a need and you know how to sew. 


There is so much that’s new in our circumstances today – so listen, listen to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst.  Listen again to the words of Jesus, to the words of Charles Wesley interpreting Jesus – Come to the gospel feast, let every soul be Jesus’ guest, for God has bid ALL humankind.  How will that invitation be issued through you – through your life and caring, through your giving and loving.  I don’t have that answer – and you might not either, yet.  But I believe that John Wesley’s insight still has merit – we are going on to perfection – we aren’t there yet.  God is ready to do a new thing, putting us to use to offer that invitation of Jesus’s grace and forgiveness to the world.   This is the good news to us today.  It’s old news that may touch our hearts and lives differently in the midst of this crisis.  Spend time with the words of Jesus – not new texts, but old texts, old stories that you think you already know.  Open your heart to new possibilities of how you might let love guide you to new experiences.  And listen, listen above the anger and bluster that spews forth from the TV news for the pain of those who are suffering from Covid-19.  Even many who are recovering are still in pain.  Listen beneath the refusals to believe the wisdom of scientists and doctors for the weeping of those who mourn the almost 100 thousand dead.  Listen to those who are afraid that they can’t put food on their table.  Then listen in your heart, deep down, for the power, for the words, for the call of the Spirit of God, leading you to new places, to live the old, old story of Jesus and his love in new ways.  Amen.

Acts 1:1-11

1In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After 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. 4While 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; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”



Psalm 93 (UMH 813)

1 The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.
He has established the world; it shall never be moved;

2 your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.

3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord,

  the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.
4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord!

5 Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O Lord, for evermore.



Ephesians 1:15-23

15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.


Luke 24:44-53

44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, 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.”

50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.



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