May 28, 2017 – Ascension Sunday

Ascension Sunday   May 28, 2017   Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-14

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Angels ask the apostles “why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky?”

(But… ) Don’t you think we’d be looking up? If we’d just seen Jesus floating up, up and away…  and vanishing in a cloud?

Seeing someone rising into the heavens and vanishing… Would, I expect… tend to get my attention… And yet…

Even in this strange age of comic-book-super-heroes who fly faster than a speeding bullet… Even in a time where we almost yawn at yet-another narrative of space-and-time travel…

Still, many of us tend to default to skepticism… when considering biblical accounts of the miraculous. And at the risk of sounding ridiculous – sometimes we miss the message because of the miracle. Sometimes we may be so distracted by the miraculous… that we don’t pause to consider… what the message really is…

The technical mechanics of how Jesus gets from metro-Jerusalem to the heavenly kingdom is way beyond my knowledge… (And I’d be very suspicious of anyone who claims to know the inside details.) I believe miracles happen. And not being able to explain it by human logic…is part of what makes it miraculous… I like what Gary Melville of the Methodist Foundation, writes:

“…I find it curious that medical doctors are comfortable, even embrace, witnessing medical miracles; the stage 4 cancer that disappears, or the restoration from paralysis. How is it that we wrestle with Jesus rising from the dead? In the West we love our logic and too often poo-poo the mystical.”

The ascension is like the resurrection, part two. Certifiably miraculous; not explainable by means of scientific logic. We believe Jesus rose from the dead because of eyewitness accounts from those who saw him alive again. And the details of how resurrection and ascension happen really don’t matter…for those who have faith…

It is important to know Jesus has risen from the dead – and has continued rising into heaven. But how it happens is beyond our understanding. Except to know it’s by God’s power…

And it’s not necessary to envision heaven as spatially above the earth – that’s probably mostly metaphor – since elsewhere (Luke 17) Jesus tells us “the kingdom of God is among you” – or, depending on translation– “within you.” How Jesus gets to the heavenly realm – and where heaven is actually located –  really isn’t the point. ‘Going up’ is a natural way to think of heaven, since we call the sky “the heavens.” But if we think of “up” only in a geographically-literal way, our faith might not stand up to the superficial analysis of that Russian cosmonaut who famously claimed God can’t be real, because he personally went up into outer space and looked, but didn’t see God anywhere up there…

(And of course, the bible tells us no one has ever seen God… Except that those who have seen Jesus know what God the Son looks like in human form.) But the Ascension isn’t really about what God looks like… (and…)

St Luke’s main intent here, along with letting us know Jesus has gone into the heavenly realm to rule there, is to capture some of the intense feelings his disciples must have been experiencing… As we may still be experiencing, to a degree, from time-to-time, even today…  As one of our contemporary poets says:

Well, he came back from the dead, which was very cool—
and now he’s left again, for good, which was totally unexpected…

…He’s gone.
As if this whole resurrection thing has come apart in our hands.
The life he leads, and gives us, is full of letting go.
And now we’re left with… what…(?)
bewilderment… and grief….
and this strange unfinished feeling.
We’re looking up in the air (–) because that’s how we feel…
And Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Methodist pastor and poet, concludes his poem with prayer:  God of unexpected changes – open us even in loss – to the next miracle.

The point is not the mechanics of the miraculous. The point is – Jesus was here among us, doing gospel life with us, showing us how to do it with him. Now he’s gone… and we’re still here… Still trying to do what he’s taught us to do… Do what he’s promised to continue to help us with… But now it’s more difficult… Or maybe just differently difficult? … Depending on our angle of vision…

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Today we are looking from several angles… at…the Ascension of our Lord – the hinge story on which the two-part gospel of Luke-Acts swings open into it’s second half. The story of Jesus and his disciples, told in two volumes by St Luke, in which we hear the Ascension story twice – at the end of Luke – again now in the beginning of Acts.

Some of the details are told differently. Luke’s first account of the ascension  seems to take place just a day or two after the resurrection… (Though there’s no exact time specified.) In Luke’s second account in Acts, the ascension happens 40 days after Jesus rises from the dead. Forty is a biblical number full of symbolism – recalling Moses’s 40 days and nights on Mt Sinai downloading the law, Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness traveling to the promised land, Jesus’ 40 days fasting in the wilderness at the start of his public ministry… (The list could go on…)

Luke tells the Ascension story differently – when he’s tells it to end volume one –  then tells it again to open volume two. Luke has different goals with each telling. Today we hear both accounts… Along with a psalm that sings of God going up with a shout, king over all the earth… And a reading from Ephesians that testifies to Jesus ruling over all creation from on high. We’re checking our spiritual latitude and longitudinal settings…. As we prepare, with the first disciples … for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit…

As angels call our gaze back down to earth… to focus on the promise from God….and the work Jesus has left us to continue…

And now, we see – disciples have actually been listening… Hearing the angels’ question as a gentle rebuke. And also remembering – Jesus didn’t tell us to rush around looking busy… So disciples don’t go straight to the temple, or back on the city streets of Jerusalem, preaching, teaching the gospel… (Though they will be doing that soon…)

But first they return to the upper room where they have been staying. And start doing what Jesus said to do. Waiting… for the gift of the Holy Spirit…

Waiting… Not passively… But expectantly… Waiting… Deeply engaged in prayer… As Jesus tells us… Waiting together in prayer…

Remembering… Jesus has been talking about the kingdom of God all along…

Now Jesus has gone to be king over creation. Still with us, but now from a different location…

And we could stand looking up in the sky wondering when he’ll come back…But angels remind us… not to go there…

And we could go home and discuss all our questions about… why things are still the way they are –why things are not more like they (most likely) are in heaven… and ought to be on earth… And there will be plenty of time to ask those questions… Which are good questions… But that’s not what Jesus says to do now.

What Jesus does say is: “wait for the gift the Father has promised…Wait till you are equipped with power from on high…”

So the disciples go to the upper room to wait and pray… Probably the same upper room where they shared the last supper, and Jesus washed their feet, and told them to do the same for each other. Now here they are, waiting together for the gift of the Holy Spirit…

(And I imagine them singing some of their prayers…)  Lord, listen to your children praying… Lord, send your Spirit in this place… Lord, listen to your children praying… Send us love – send us power – send us grace

(And I imagine them singing:) Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us…. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us… Melt us… Mold us… Fill us…. Use us… Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us…(Let’s sing it together… )

Maybe we can imagine ourselves… Meeting together like this…Every day in prayer… Waiting for the gift of the Spirit to be stirred up among us… And…

We can do this. Starting at home, praying even five, ten, fifteen minutes a day… Every day making it our practice…To be asking God for guidance for our church… Asking God to help all of us who are part of the church…Asking God to help us to know our neighbors…And reach out to them…Asking God to renew and regenerate us all through the Holy Spirit.  (The Advocate, the Friend, Jesus promised.)

The directions we need will come. Not through our own strength. Not through our own efforts (other than showing up in prayer and listening)… But through God’s Holy Spirit… We will get word of what God would like… If we do our part…

Waiting together, offering ourselves together, in prayer…

God will lead us… God will show us what we need to know…

God will equip us for all God asks of us…And God being God… We know…

All God asks of us… will be all for the good of all…

Thanks be to God. Amen.