To What Do We Ascend?
13 Apr 2018
I tripped on my shoelace And I fell up— Up to the roof tops, Up over the town, Up past the tree tops, Up over the mountains, Up where the colors Blend into the sounds. But it got me so dizzy When I looked around, I got sick to my stomach And I threw down.
Shel Silverstein’s marvelous poem Falling Up.
I don’t think this is what Jesus experienced when he ascended into heaven, but I think his followers might have been thinking along those lines. They were upset that he was gone, really upset. This was not how the story was to end at all. Where is that empire that was to be re-established? They were between misguided hope for the present and no hope for the future, or for that matter the present. How is this Good News? It is good news, dear people, because the commonwealth of love, justice, and mercy has arrived. Is it established? By no means. We need look no farther than out own town, or even our own lives, to know it is not yet complete. But listen!! “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” and when you receive it you will have no fear of being a witness in Jerusalem, then on to Judea, and then on to Samaria and the ends of the earth. Do you remember Philip preaching to the Samaritans and to the Ethiopian eunuch? Do you remember? What was the message that was being preached and taught and lived out in Jesus’ life?
Why are you staring up at heaven? I hate to tell you, but, while Jesus will return, you have work to do. You need to look not upward but straight ahead. The angels did what I would call an intervention to redirect the disciples. They, and you, have all the tools you will need. You have them by virtue of your baptism and the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ teachings. It is now up to you to usher in the commonwealth. Think about it: you have been given gifts; each of us a unique set of gifts. Some of us may choose to leave them unopened. Some may take these gifts and hide them away. But gifts are meant to be used and they become more precious the more they are used. Jesus’ ascension gave us the permission we needed to be God’s agents in the world. That is what it is all about; being agents of love, justice, and mercy to all, each of us in our own way. Jesus made it clear that all of us are witnesses. He did not say “you be a witness here and you go there” or “Sally stay home and do the laundry for the disciples” or “only witness to those who are like you.” We have a clear mandate to witness to the ends of the earth, to everyone, no exceptions.
What is that witness to look like? I can tell you what it is not!! It is NOT nationalism or tribalism or sexism or anything that puts a limit on who is to be part of this commonwealth. We can never equate Christianity with a nation or an empire; that is exactly what Jesus did NOT want his disciples to do. No partiality.
So that is what it is NOT. Instead we are to be part of a beloved community in which no one who wants to be part of the community is excluded. We are each, in out own way, to live into our gifts. Our gifts, given by the Holy Spirit, are unique to us and they make us Christians in a very particular place and in a very particular way. I have been gifted as a healer and, I think, as someone who can help bring consensus. I see my relative wealth and position as something I can use for good influence. I think we need to take a moment and think about our own gifts, for we all have them. If you do something that brings joy, healing, justice, mercy, or love to another being, you are using a gift given to you. It can be as simple as helping a friend or neighbor or as complex as helping to write or pass legislation that promotes the well being of others. It can be as risky as being a peacemaker in a conflict or as simple as taking cookies to a lonely neighbor. Every act of love and kindness brings the second coming all that closer.
You have in your life power; some people have almost none and some have far too much. There are three kinds of power: you can have power over someone, which is oppression, power to, which is at its worst condescending or paternalistic, or power with, which is a shared and mutual giving. You empower others. This is the power Jesus gave to all of us and only this kind of power comes from God; the others are human forms of oppression.
As we contemplate Jesus’ ascension to the Father and what it means for us, our own empowerment and not abandonment, our own call to mission and to be the church, I ask that we pray.
O Lord Jesus, I adore You, Son of Mary, my Savior and my Brother, for You are God. I follow You in my thoughts, O firstfruits of our race, as I hope one day by Your grace to follow You in my person into heavenly glory.
In the meantime, do let me neglect the earthly task that You have given me. Let me labor diligently all my life with a greater appreciation for the present. Let me realize that only by accomplishing true human fulfillment can I attain Divine fulfillment and ascend to You at the completion of my work. New Saint Joseph People's Prayer Book