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Better Late Than Never
a sermon based on Luke 24:44-53
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

A few weeks ago, we heard about Thomas, his doubts, his questions about the risen Jesus. That was John’s account. This week we celebrate Ascension Day, the day our Lord said fare-well to his disciples before being lifted into the sky.   Right before Jesus leaves, he appears to his friends one more time.    Jesus suddenly appears among the disciples, and according to Luke, all of the disciples were fearful and unbelieving.

Makes me wonder why? I mean, here Jesus was standing right in front of them and they couldn’t believe their eyes. Thomas in John’s account didn’t see Jesus and doubted, but in Luke’s account the disciples have doubt even as Jesus stands before them. They think he’s a ghost. They’re scared like little kids.  It makes you wonder why. Didn’t they hear the teachings of Jesus? Didn’t they hear Jesus talk to them about the sign of Jonah didn’t he explain that “the son of man will be killed, but on the third day he will rise again?” So, why were they so surprised and unbelieving when Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection?

According to Luke, there was something missing: “understanding.” In Verse 45 Luke reports: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures . . .”

That must have been quite an intense Sunday School class with students muttering: “Ahhh!” “Ohh!” “Riiiiight!” “Of course!” “Why didn’t I see that?” and other such exclamations. Now, finally they understand.   It was about time. 

Better late than never!" some would say.  But, here is the thing,  it took for Jesus to unlock their minds, it took a special revelation by God himself for the disciples to get it. It wasn't up to them.

Have you ever wondered why two people can look at nature and one sees the signature of God in it and starts praising the Maker, and the other sees nothing but a bunch of molecules caught in the cycle of evolution and entropy?

Have you ever wondered why two people read the same bible and one meets the living God (receives strength and peace and joy for every-day living) and another sees nothing but a collection of ancient human writings?

Fact is, that it takes an act of God, a special revelation to each one of us personally in order for us to see the light of God. Just like Jesus had to open the disciples’ minds, God needs to open our minds, too, so we can understand.

Opening our minds, of course, is the work of the the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit. That’s why we pray before reading the Scripture in our bible study. And you know what? I think that’s why we ought to pray before reading Scripture in our worship service and before the sermon. Brothers and sisters, I have an announcement to make: after reading this Scripture passage and while preparing this message, I have heard God speak to me concerning this matter. And I think we would profit from praying a prayer of illumination before our bible readings. Let us start a new, wonderful tradition (for us new) in next week’s service by having a prayer for illunation before the readings.

The fact that we need God to understand puts a whole new twist on our (human) theology, doesn’t it? Our faith, the fact that we believe and understand something of the mystery of God, is not rooted in any of our doing, it is rooted in God’s grace alone. It is God who is doing the revealing of God’s truths, it is not our natural intellect who understands. The apostle Paul put it like this in 1 Corinthians, chapter one: "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?"

If God gives understanding to whom God wills, is there anything we can do in the process of growing spiritually? Yes, I believe there is. We can be open, we can pray that God may open our minds.  On this Ascension Day let us open ourselves up to Jesus to unlock our minds and give us understanding as well.  As we celebrate Jesus taking his place at the right hand of God the Father, may we ask God to reveal to us the   possibilities that Jesus can unlock in our lives.  Amen.