Ascension Sunday

Acts 1:1-11
Luke 24:44-53
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Today is the seventh Sunday of Easter, and also Ascension Sunday, where we make the transition toward Pentecost next week and celebration of the “birth” of the Church.

Today, Jesus is gathered with the disciples, and Luke tells us that he begins to open their minds about what is to come.  Sometimes, my brothers and sisters, we need to have our minds opened in order to see and understand what we are to be doing with ourselves and the world around us.  We need help understanding our actions and inactions; our words and dispositions.  We don’t always understand how to connect the dots with what we do and don’t do in the day-to-day.  We want to do some things, but they are not pleasing in the eyes of God.  Other things we would rather ignore, but God calls to us.

And so, Jesus was teaching them.  And as he did so, he was taken up into heaven before their very eyes.

These disciples had been faithful followers.  Many had left everything to sign on to this new movement.  They had done their best.  Now their mentor, teacher, rabbi, and spiritual leader is taken away – again.  What do we do when the ones we love have been taken from us?  How do we carry on our lives so bereft of their presence?  Their voice?  Their words?  That is the question posed on the inside of our bulletin cover; the quote by Mel Williams.

What do we do when any important person leaves us?  We can be paralyzed, depressed, or scared.  We can sit nervously in the boat, waiting for the captain to show up and lead us.  We can sit there in the boat with the sail still tied, flapping in the harbor.  Or we can push off and open our sail to allow the wind of the Spirit to explode and set us sailing.[1]

Oh – that the wind of God might explode and set us sailing!  We ask ourselves, how are we tending to the call of faith on our lives?  How are we being relevant in the present age and creating a future for those who need the good news of the gospel in their lives.  How are we tending to those who are marginalized and oppressed?  Of whose stories and narratives bombard the airwaves of our time, crying out for help?

Or is it all that we can do to get ourselves through?  To handle our own affairs?  To muster enough strength to get through our own days?

The disciples were left with a promise: “Stay in Jerusalem and wait…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…”[2]

Luke tells us that while he is saying these things; as they were watching, Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.  As he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “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.”[3]

I think there is a real temptation for us Christians – surely those early disciples felt it too – to want to spend our time standing still and gazing; looking at no particular thing, but just staring in the distance.  Looking without really paying too much attention.  Sometimes, in our piety or sense of “Church”, we can be guilty of being so “other-ly” minded that we are of no earthly good.

But I’m thinking that Jesus would have us know that there is plenty of work for us to do.  That the real work is not in daydreams or clouds, nor in anxiety or fear; it’s not in looking back and staying still but pushing out and pushing forth to see what is right before our eyes.  Perhaps now is the time to not be gazing, but rather to be seeing and doing.

Have you ever noticed that part in our Holy Communion liturgy?

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.  By your Spirit – make us one. [4]

We are not able to do it on our own.  We will never be able to break down all the walls that separate and divide us – black and white, young and old, gay and straight, the haves and the have nots, those who are in and those who are out.  These walls are forever keeping us trapped and bound; forever presenting a lesser version of ourselves than we truly can be; and also a lesser version of the world, of other people.  Their needs and desires.

In our flesh, our faith will never be resilient enough, I think.  We will never be able to stay the course; it’s overwhelming.  We grow tired and weary; disenchanted.  We grow paranoid and anxious over every little thing.  Our stamina wanes.  We are not able to endure.

But by your Spirit, we are able to be one – whole in our own selves.  One – with Christ.  One with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.

Jesus said:  You will receive power and you will bear witness.  You will witness to the fact that I have been with you in a very real way and that my presence has made a transformative difference.

Can we claim that truth?  That Jesus has come among us and continues to be with us as a viable presence pushing us out beyond our comfort zone into new horizons; even beyond our ability to comprehend?   Does our demeanor, decisions, and actions bear witness that through it all – good times and bad – Christ is indeed present as a friend and helper; a Shepherd; the Vine – holding us together and guiding our way?

Are we witnesses to the fact that on the other side of all the trials, the mockery, the nightmares, death, loss, grief, betrayals, and disappointments, hope does indeed spring eternal; new life is possible?

Are we witnesses to the fact that there are wrongs in our world that need to be changed?  No longer acceptable?  No longer status quo – and we want to be part of making a change?

It’s pretty daunting, don’t you think?  But who would know better than Jesus the challenge of it all; how difficult?  And so, he gives assurance of a lifetime: A promise so pure and transcendent that all generations can follow:  “I will be with you.”  From beginning to end, I will be with you.  This is the message of the gospel and our own glad hope.

On Pentecost Sunday, next week, we will celebrate the Holy Spirit being released upon the church.   The Holy Spirit – that wild, strange, illusive presence as old as dirt and beyond ourselves.  The essence of God that keeps drawing us back; lifting us up; giving us strength beyond ourselves.

That cannot be seen with the naked eye; nor always heard with the natural ear.  That cannot be snuffed out by fear or criticism amid all the noise rolling around in our head.

Fall on us, Holy Spirit.  Reign down upon us.  Fill us.  Heal us and bind us together; guide us.  Make us a living witness for all people.    Help us to do our part.

There is a wonderful poem; it is attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero, though in fact he did not write it.  The prayer is called “A Future Not Our Own”:

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision
We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.  No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.  No set of goals and objectives include everything.
This is what we are about.  We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water the seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.[5]
We are prophets of a future not our own, called to declare a gospel in word and deed good for healing in our time.  Prophets of justice, peace, love.   You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses.  Wow.

And so, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.

[1] Source unknown
[2] Acts 1:8b
[3] Acts 1:10
[4] United Methodist Hymnal, pg 12