The Rubber Hits the Road

Preached on 24 June 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, Track 2.

One of my good friends in seminary was from Hawai’i.  Not surprisingly, when he was ordained, I, along with many of our classmates attended.  Afterward, as he was greeting everyone, people gave him leis. Lots of leis. When there was no more room to put them around his neck, they draped them on his arm and then the other arm.  When he got home, he put them in his fridge.  There was no room for any food.  And then, when we all went out, he would get them out so everyone could wear two or three.  When we protested, he explained that leis are supposed to be passed on, not kept.  That’s the way it is with love.  That’s the way it is with grace.  That’s the way it is with the Kingdom of God.

This morning, I want to dip into the letter to the Corinthians a bit and start by backing up a few verses to chapter 5, verse 19, which some might say is a concise summary of the Good News.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to God’s self, not counting anyone’s faults against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” Repeat

Paul continues, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, .. it is as though God were urging you, through us,
and in the name of Christ, we appeal to you, be reconciled to God.”

He goes on, “Do not let your acceptance of God’s grace come to nothing.”  Unlike the buck, don’t let God’s grace stop here.  If it does, it ceases to be grace.  Grace flows through us to others, to the world.  It is meant to be passed along – like the leis.

Now, I want you to take the Prayer Book and turn to page 855.  This is an outline of the faith presented in question and answer format.  At the top, we see:

“Q What is the mission of the Church?
A  The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
Sounds a bit like that verse we just heard, doesn’t it?

“Q  How does the church pursue its mission?
A  The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worship, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
So it’s not just about going to church and reading your Bible and saying your prayers.  Promoting justice, peace, and love is an active pursuit.

And finally,
“Q  Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A  The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.”
That’s us.  All of us.

Now, turn to page 304, the Baptismal Covenant.  Here are the vows we make when we’re baptized and that we renew several times a year.
We vow to “persevere in resisting evil.”
We vow to “serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself.”
We vow to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Here is where the rubber meets the road.  Christianity is not merely an intellectual or even spiritual pursuit.  It’s not theory or a philosophy or an ideology.  Christianity is incarnational; it is how we actively live our lives and put it into practice.

What our government is doing at the southern border, and at SeaTac and all over the country for that matter, they are doing in our name not only as Americans, but as Christians.  And it is wrong.  The injustice and gratuitous cruelty must be stopped.

This is not about conservative or progressive, it’s not about partisan politics.  This is about basic humanity.

The words of our baptismal vows are strong verbs – Persevere in resisting evil.  It is not for the faint of heart.  It takes stamina.
Strive for justice and peace.  That sounds like a bit more than signing an online petition or sharing articles on facebook.  It isn’t easy.  If you are interested in what you can do, I attended a couple of events this week and learned, how the Church Council of Greater Seattle is involved.  I have a handout if you want to know more.

You need to remember, when we live our baptismal vows, resisting evil, loving our neighbor, striving for justice, insisting that every human being be treated with dignity, we will be opposed.  Opposition is not a sign that we’re doing it wrong.

Did you hear what Paul experienced?  He was beaten, maligned, persecuted, imprisoned, and on and on.  Yet, he persisted.  He spoke frankly with his heart open.  And he appeals to his readers, “Open your hearts, also.”  May we open our hearts, also.

In closing I will read to you excerpts from an exhortation by Karoline Lewis, based on today’s Gospel.  The citation will be on my website.

It’s called, Crossing the Kingdom.[1]

Please follow the link to read Karoline Lewis’ article.
Crossing the Kingdom by Karoline Lewis

Here is where the rubber hits the road.

[1] Karoline Lewis.  Dear Working Preacher.  Posted June 19, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5181

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Anyway

Preached on 10 June 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

It’s been said, when you pray, pray with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  The corollary is this, when you read or listen to the news, have a prayer book in hand.  You’ll need it.

This morning, as we turn to the Bible, we go all the way to the beginning to hear a passage from Genesis.  Too often this passage is used to blame women for the existence of sin.  It is seen as judgement on humanity.  However, there are other ways to interpret it.  Neither sin nor judgement is even mentioned and when it comes to curses, only the snake is cursed by God.

I suggest that this story from Genesis is a description of the Human Condition.  The reality of our world is that we have to work to live.  The reality is that childbirth is painful but that pain doesn’t deter us from reproducing, from extending our love in our children.  That isn’t God’s judgement or punishment, it just is.

At the same time, the story shows that we are aware of our own brokenness, the brokenness of the world, and our complicity in it.  We recognize right and wrong, yet we too frequently choose poorly.  We evade responsibility.  We shift blame.  We hide from the Truth.  This is the Human Condition.

It manifests and morphs and re-manifests over and over again throughout human history, across cultures and civilizations.  The metaphors change, the names of the characters and of the particular wrongs may change, but it’s always present.

I think that’s why Scripture continues to speak to us and our lives today; even though it was written for other audiences and circumstances.  The human condition transcends time and geography and culture.

Our hope lies in this:  Compassion, mercy, justice, freedom, love – they appear to be moving in the general direction of expansion despite times when they lose ground.  Practices that were once taken for granted by nearly everyone are now seen as barbaric or abhorrent by many or nearly all people.

Every culture, every civilization, every religion tells myths, stories, to speak to what is Good, what is True, what is Beautiful, Worthy, Holy, Loving.  They give us identity and belonging, meaning and value.  They tell us what we as a people value and how to live a good life, a meaningful life.

I often tell couples who are about to be married that the world will teach their children answers to those questions, but they are not the ones we would want.  It is up to us, their parents, their community, to teach them the myths, the stories that give them life and counter the messages of the world.

We are bombarded with messages from our earliest moments.  We are told we are valuable primarily as consumers; for what we buy.  What we posses is merely a sign of that and so we have to keep consuming, keep buying more.  We are told that our identity is found in what we do for pay and that the size of our paycheck is somehow a measure of our worth as a human being.

We hear messages about how success is measured, about who deserves help and who doesn’t, about who deserves health care or housing, food and clean water, safety and protection, about who is entitled to abuse others and destroy God’s creation for their own enrichment.

We hear about merit; that work is rewarded equitably with money.  That if someone is not being paid as much it is because they don’t work as hard or because their work isn’t as good or as needed or as worthwhile as those who are paid more.

These are just a few examples of what the world will tell us, will teach our children.  We all know they’re not true when we think about it, and yet, our behavior and our choices too often say otherwise.

So, all of that is about the Human Condition we heard about in Genesis.  But God gives us stories, myths, to counter the false myths the world tells us.  We can remember and retell those myths, those Truths, in our own context.

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus, the Incarnation of God, is like an incursion.  God comes to challenge the Powers of the world, to reclaim God’s reign, to expose the false myths, false claims, false promises, false values of what’s happening in the world of Mark’s audience.

And here’s the beauty of Scripture.  While Mark was writing with a particular audience in mind, with the specific trials they were facing, we too, are Mark’s audience and the Truth he reveals is still True.

What does Mark have to say to us this morning?  How is the reign of God challenging the Powers of the day?  How are those Powers resisting God’s reign?

The reading this morning is one of several passages in which crowds gather around Jesus and he cures the sick and casts out unclean spirits.  The people in the crowds recognize the divine power at work in Jesus.  This time, Jesus is home and again a crowd gathers.  His family is alarmed and tries to get him away, saying, “He’s out of his mind.”

Then, right in the middle of telling the story, Mark interrupts himself with an exchange between Jesus and the Scribes from Jerusalem.  They represent the highest religious authority.  Jesus, this incursion of the reign of God reaching across barriers to heal and forgive those whom the Temple deems unworthy, represents a threat to their power and they resist.

They come and declare that what Jesus is doing is not from God at all, but that he is possessed by Satan.  Just as a side note, this is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that Jesus is talking about; to not only deny the works of God, but to say they are of the devil.

Jesus refutes them.  He has come to tie up the Strong Man, the forces of evil, in order to free those held captive.  He boldly proclaims that all human sin will be forgiven, all blasphemies forgiven.

So here we have the crowd who recognizes the divine blessing brought by Jesus, his family who is trying to get him out of there, saying he’s crazy, and the Scribes who say he’s possessed.

The resistance to Jesus is coming from all sides.  The Scribes try to discredit him.  And his family – maybe they’re trying to protect him.  They see the danger in, but if they succeed in spiriting him away, with a “pay no attention to him, he’s crazy,” maybe he’ll be okay. Jesus persists, of course.  Despite the resistance, he stays focused on the message and the work.

Now, what about our own context? How does the reign of God challenge the Powers in our world today?  How are those Powers resisting God’s reign?
What are we to do?
Following Jesus, becoming Christian is hard.
I wonder if we have tried to make it more appealing to the masses by downplaying its demands.

Why?  Why do we try to appeal to the masses?  Well, I have some ideas, but I think that’s a different sermon.

Following Jesus is not a hobby, something we do in our spare time or pick up and then set aside at our convenience.  No, it’s a way of living, a way of being.

That state of being doesn’t happen magically, though, nor can we attain it by force of will.  No, it’s a lifelong process in concert with God, through relationship with God.  It comes about through prayer, worship in community, and spending time with Scripture, allowing it to speak to our soul.  It comes through giving of ourselves to others and spending time with the poor, the outcast, you know, the folks Jesus would hang out with.

So, what about this Human Condition thing?  As human beings, we are unable to solve it.  At the same time, as followers of Jesus, neither are we free to ignore suffering and evil.

We start with Jesus, our identity in Christ, and with prayer.  As I came up with a list of bullet points, I remembered this song and I think it’s better.
It’s called “Anyway”

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight.
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough.
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God
It was never between you and them anyway.

Sabbath: A Foretaste of Heaven

Preached on 3 June 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
Proper 4 (Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Psalm 81:1-10, 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, Mark 2:23-3:6)

Observing or keeping Sabbath is about more than going to church on Sunday.  It’s about more than a day off of work and it’s certainly about more than any legalistic rules about what counts as work.  Observing Sabbath is more than individual practice and benefits.

Sabbath is also about affirming life.  Sabbath gives life.  It is about human flourishing.  Sabbath is about community.

Sabbath is also about Justice.

I’d like to share a couple of stories.
One Lent, I decided to be intentional and serious about keeping Sabbath as my Lenten practice that year.  Week by week, I observed a day of Sabbath doing mostly what was refreshing and renewing.  I usually started my morning with a walk with some friends.  Then I might read or take a nap or just whatever.  It was a time to rest and be refreshed, and in the space that rest created, to reconnect more deeply with God.

What started as a discipline became a gift and then a habit.  Gradually, this habit revealed to me, not just on an intellectual level, but deep within me, that I am a beloved child of God just because I am, not because of what I do or accomplish or achieve.

Think about it, first we love our children – before they can do anything, we love them.  We may feel happy or pleased or proud about what they achieve but that’s not why we love them.  Or we may feel disappointed or even angry about what they do or don’t do at times, but we still love them.

Why wouldn’t God be at least as good at loving us as the most loving person you know?

As that realization settle into my soul, I could see that it is true for everyone else, too.  Not just my family and friends and people I like or agree with, but everyone: even the jerks, even the criminals.  Doing prison ministry really drove that home for me.

Sabbath is a gift. A gift of love; a gift of life.  It affirms and refreshes our lives.  It is a gift of re-creation; not only for ourselves, but for the whole world.

My grandfather came from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.  Those are the islands off the west coast of northern Scotland.  Go west from there and the next stop is Newfoundland, in Canada.

The people are poor, for the most part.  They somehow scrape a living out of the land every day: fishing for salmon in their streams, raising sheep, farming, doing a bit of this and that here and there.  There aren’t a lot of people on the island so everybody has to wear multiple hats.

We visited during peat-cutting season, in May.  It’s so far north that it’s still light at 11 pm, so they work at it late into the evening after working at their jobs all day.  It’s hard, dirty work.  The peat is wet and heavy.  They cut it and haul each piece out, then spread them out to dry in the sun.  They’ll use it to heat their homes all winter and in some cases as fuel in their cooking stoves all year.

The people work hard.  Every day.  And they keep Sabbath.  I mean they really keep Sabbath.  Everything shuts down except the hospital and the hotel.  There’s no bus or taxi service.  No ferries, no flights.  Nobody even goes for a walk.  They truly rest.  And after working so hard the rest of the week, they need it.  By the time we left, I had a very different understanding of what it means to keep Sabbath and why.

So, what do our readings say about the Sabbath?

In the gospel, we see Jesus discussing the Sabbath with the Pharisees on two different occasions.  That’s what people did.  Torah – what our translations often call Law but is better translated teaching or instruction – Torah isn’t monolithic or “settled law.”  The rabbis would (and still do) dispute with each other over what it means; and particularly about how to live it.

We see them interpreting Torah in Real Time.  It’s not abstract, it’s about what they do in their real lives.   First we have Jesus and the disciples apparently travelling on the Sabbath.  They’re making their way through a grain field and picking it as they go along.  They’re gleaning.  They’re hungry.

When the Pharisees question him about it, Jesus turns to a story in scripture involving King David as his argument that meeting human need, such as hunger in this case, is more important than strict Sabbath observance because the Sabbath was created for the good of human life; for human flourishing, not for its own sake.  God doesn’t need the Sabbath.  We do.

In the second instance, they’re in the synagogue and Jesus sets up this scenario for a man’s healing.  He asks those present if it is lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath; to save a life or to kill.  No one answers.  Now they all know that they still care for their children and livestock on the Sabbath.  If someone were drowning, they would save them.  But where do we draw the line?

Now you may notice, Jesus doesn’t really do anything.  He merely tells the man to stretch out his hand.  God heals him, restoring his withered hand.  God restores his life in the sense that now the man is able to work, to support his family in a way he wasn’t able to before.  This healing represents liberation and life.  Jesus hasn’t broken or overturned any law.

However, liberation can represent a threat to authority, and so the authorities begin to plot against Jesus, which is a recurring theme in the gospel of Mark.

Now, let’s look at Deuteronomy, the primary source, so to speak.  Here we have an excerpt from the Ten Commandments, where God establishes the observance of the Sabbath.  Deuteronomy is actually the second place it occurs in Torah.

The Decalogue first appears in the Book of Exodus.  The people have just left a life of slavery and arrived at Mt. Sinai where God gives Moses this teaching, establishing a covenant with the people.  So, after generations of slavery in which their time, their bodies, their labor are owned and controlled by the Egyptians, they are finally free.
In Sabbath, they are given the gift of time and rest.  What a gift!  Imagine how that would feel – especially while they are fleeing their former captors.  Even then, they are given rest.

In Deuteronomy, which we hear today, it’s presented as Moses speaking to the Israelites toward the end of their journey in the wilderness, not long before they enter the promised land.  Deuteronomy contains a series of discourses.

This is in the Second Discourse of Moses and he is reiterating the covenant at Sinai.  “observe the Sabbath and keep it holy,” we hear.  This is the longest of the commandments.  It focuses on the time as slaves in Egypt and that this is the God who brought them up out of Egypt.  Therefore, you will work for six days and on the seventh you will not work.  God is saying, you are free, liberated.

And not just you.  Sabbath is about Community.  The Sabbath is for everyone in your family, everyone in your household; even the slave is free on the Sabbath.  It’s for everyone in your community, including the immigrant and the traveler just passing through.  Even your livestock rest.  It is not restricted to the People of the Covenant, to believers, but they are to extend it to all.

The Sabbath is about Justice.

Now, what if we interpret scripture in Real Time?  How do we observe Sabbath in our own lives; in our community?  And I’m not talking about passing blue laws that impose our practice on others in a legalistic way.

How can our practice of Sabbath promote human flourishing – our own and everyone else’s?  How can it help us reconnect with God?

God makes it clear that God hates slavery.

What choices do we make and what systems in our culture deny or limit the flourishing of life for others?  How do they continue the effects of slavery, even without the institution of slavery?  I think you know what I mean.

What choices do we or can we make to give life and promote human flourishing; to dismantle that which diminishes or denies life for certain people?

How can we extend the Justice of Sabbath to our neighbor, to the immigrant, to those who labor for our good?

Imagine if everyone could experience the gift of Sabbath, to know deep within their soul that they are deeply loved by God; that they are free.

You see, Sabbath is nothing less than a foretaste of heaven.

God Doesn’t use Dripless Candles

Preached on 20 May 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle Washington
Day of Pentecost, Year B

We do love candles in church, don’t we?  They’re pretty and they remind us of the light of Christ shining in the darkness of the world.  We particularly love lighting the fire at the Great Vigil of Easter.  But we do like to keep the flames contained, of course.  We wouldn’t want to burn the place down.  And who hasn’t been burnt by hot wax?  That hurts!  And so we turn on the electric lights and keep the flames small.

We keep the wicks trimmed so they won’t splutter and gutter.  Sometimes we even try to shield them from any little air currents.  I’m sure that every altar guild blesses the person who invented dripless candles.  It makes it so much easier to keep those flames under control and keep the melted wax off of the fine linens.

Well, God doesn’t use dripless candles.  When God lights a fire, it’s a flame that can’t be extinguished,
not even by a violent wind.  And you know what?  Sometimes God blows through as that wind.

You may remember that on Easter, my theme was Christ is on the loose.  Well, here we are, 50 days later.  It’s Pentecost.  You thought the resurrection was big, just you wait; see what’s next.  Now the Holy Spirit is on the loose.

What signs of the Holy Spirit do you see in your life?  And especially what signs of the Holy Spirit do you see here at Ascension?

How do you respond?

We see how Peter responds.  When he realizes that everyone can understand them, that language is not a barrier, he seizes the opportunity to tell the whole crowd all about Jesus; all that they had been witness to.  And because faithful Jews from all over the world are gathered in Jerusalem for the festival and everyone can hear and understand him, you can be sure that when they return home, this is a story they will tell.

Think about it, here we are, still telling the story.
I wonder though, if with the passage of time we have domesticated the story.  Have we turned the flames of Pentecost into dripless candles?

What do you think I might mean by that?
Do we ask too little of the Holy Spirit?  Do we think (or should I say hope) that the Holy Spirit expects little of us?  Do we try to tame the Holy Spirit?

When the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit immediately drove him into the desert where he was tempted by Satan, yes, but also where he fasted and prayed and was challenged by God, I’m sure.  I imagine it is where he discerned what he was to do next.

When the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples on Pentecost, they were then sent out into the world to continue the work of Jesus, to be the church in the world.  They didn’t go back to that upper room and wait.

It’s natural to want to make this a “fun” story.  At times, the church almost makes it seem like a children’s birthday party; the birthday of the church.   And then we focus on “church” as what happens inside this building.

Even at his ascension, the disciples were still asking Jesus, “Is this the day when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Perhaps it’s simply human to long for the “happily ever after” moment.  When we celebrate Pentecost, we so want it to be the happily ever after turning point for the church; for the world.

We look at all the cool stuff that happened: the people heard the disciples speaking in their own languages.  Peter preached and thousands believed and were baptized.  And as we continue reading, we see miraculous healings, raising the dead, inspired preaching, and even more thousands added to the number of believers.  But we sometimes overlook the hardships and challenges: the arguments between the disciples, the trials, beatings, jails, persecutions, and most of them ended up dead, executed.

The trouble with ignoring the challenges is that when we run into our own challenges as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we can think that we must have done something wrong; that we failed.  Here’s the thing though, faithfulness does not necessarily lead to success.  Following where the Holy Spirit leads will almost certainly lead to struggle and hardship; to challenges and then more challenges.

We so want to be able to just overcome the obstacles and get back to “normal.”  We think that smooth sailing is what we should be able to expect.  But that’s not how life is; it’s not how God works.

The Holy Spirit does, indeed, ask a great deal of us.
It sounds scary and exhausting, doesn’t it?  But here’s the rest of the story: we can expect a great deal from the Holy Spirit as well.  We don’t face the challenges alone.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t solve our problems but helps us see new possibilities where others might see only problems.  The Holy Spirit offers us not safety, but presence.

So, I ask you again.

What signs of the Holy Spirit do you see in your life?  And especially what signs of the Holy Spirit do you see here at Ascension?  Where is the Spirit leading you; calling you?  How do you respond?

In a little bit, you’ll have a chance to talk to each other about your ministries:  the activities, the people, the places where you are led by the Spirit; how you have responded; where you have seen signs of the Spirit.  We’re having a ministry fair during coffee hour.  Go and see what’s happening here; see how we are being church in the world.  See if you are called to start something new.

Remember, God doesn’t use dripless candles.
Will the Holy Spirit set your heart aflame?

What’s in a Name

Preached on 13 May 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Ascension Sunday

This morning, we celebrate the parish feast day, the Feast of the Ascension.  And today’s homily is going to be a bit different, it’s going to be interactive, so be ready to participate.

I’m always curious about why the founding congregation chooses a particular name for their new church.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard one of the stories.

When I started asking around here about the traditions and customs for celebrating your feast day, I heard varied, vague answers.  I heard stories that at one time you would have a dinner on the actual day, which is always a Thursday, but people don’t go out in the evenings or on weeknights anymore.  I got the impression that it was no big deal and that it was often overlooked.

Maybe it’s kind of like having your birthday fall on Christmas Eve – it gets lost in the bigger celebrations in late spring.  Or maybe it’s because we’re a little bit uncomfortable with this whole Jesus riding on a cloud up into the sky thing?  But, you know, it’s one of our central tenets; it’s stated in the Creeds, it’s in our sacred Scriptures.

So, this morning, let’s look a bit more closely at the Ascension of Jesus and what it means for the Church of the Ascension.  Since it’s our feast day, let’s celebrate the people and ministry of this community of faith.

Let’s start with the cloud thing.  We use metaphor to talk about God.  How else can we describe the indescribable, the mystery of the divine?  So, rising to heaven on a cloud was a way to tell others what they had experienced when there really are no words.

I suggest that the ascension is not about Jesus location in space, but rather about his location or status in his relationship with God the Father.  Jesus’ primary role, is to be with God.  And you know what?  That’s true of us, as well.  Our natural state is to be with God.

With that in mind, let’s look at what our readings have to say.  Did you notice that we heard the same story told by the same person two times and the details of the story changed a bit in each telling?  I wonder why that is? Perhaps he is trying to make a different point in each telling.

In the gospel reading, when we come into the story, it is still the day of the Resurrection or possibly the next day.  The two disciples whom Jesus met on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem to tell their story to the disciples.  Then Jesus suddenly shows up and proves to them that he’s not a ghost.

That’s where we started the reading this morning.  That has just happened.  Jesus opens their minds to understand the scriptures in light of the resurrection.  He tells them that they are to be witness and to preach the gospel to all nations after they have received “Power from on high.”

Then they go out to Bethany, Jesus blesses them and is carried up to heaven.  The disciples go back to Jerusalem to wait, in hopeful anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit, continually in the Temple praising God.

On the one hand, in the gospel story, the Ascension is the last act of Jesus’ work; it brings that part of the story to its conclusion.  Jesus came from God to live among us, reconciling people to God; he suffered, died and was buried; he was raised from death and he returned to God.

The empty tomb was not the end of the story.  Jesus’ ascension shows us that not only is there resurrection, that death doesn’t have the final say, but that resurrection is also not the end of the story.  Jesus’ ascension shows us that the path, our path, leads all the way back to God

On the other hand, the Ascension is not the end of Luke’s story.  The gospel ends with an ongoing action.  The disciples are continually in the Temple, praising God.  There is more to come.  They are waiting; God will lead them.

The gospel of Luke is centered on Jerusalem.  It begins in Jerusalem with the annunciation to Zechariah that his wife would have a son, John the Baptist.  And it ends in Jerusalem with the Passion and the post-resurrection events he recounts, all the way to the disciples waiting for the Spirit.

In the Acts, by contrast, the story begins in Jerusalem and then goes out to the rest of the world, ending in Rome.  Luke tells the story of the Ascension again in Acts.  This time, however, it occurs forty days after the resurrection.  During that time, Jesus is with them and gives them further instruction, telling them to stay in Jerusalem waiting for the Holy Spirit.

This time, Luke’s point is that the ascension of Jesus makes possible the coming of the Spirit and Jesus’ presence among all of us, everywhere, for all time.  It is to launch the church.

So, now we start the interactive part of the sermon.

What does the Ascension of Jesus mean to you?

Does anyone know the story of how the founders chose Ascension as the name for this congregation?

When you think about the last several months or even the last year,

  • what do you want to celebrate about this church, this congregation?
  • How have you seen God at work through this community?
  • How have you been touched by God through the people here?
  • For what are you grateful? [see next page for ex]

Truly I tell you, there is much to be thankful for here.  Jesus is among us.  The Holy Spirit is at work.
Thanks be to God.