Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sermon: Ascension

             I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you miss a lot of the Bible if you don’t have a sense of humor—or at least of irony.
-Sarah laughs at the idea of her and Abraham making a baby—so they name the kid “He Laughs”,
-Jonah is a parody of the Prophet Nahum,
-some of the things God calls the prophets to do skirt the line between the absurd and the obscene—and their words are often as sarcastic as any teenager alive,
-some of Jesus’ parables are patently funny,
and the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles portray the Disciples as truly the duh-sciples.

            And today is no exception, after the resurrection Jesus promises his Disciples that they will receive the Holy Spirit, to which they reply, “Are you restoring the kingdom of Israel?”
Jesus tells them of the future, they look to the past.

            Likewise, he tells them they will witness to the whole world, and ascends. They all just stand their looking up… until, that is, the two men—the angels from the end of Luke’s Gospel who witness to Jesus’ resurrection—show up, and ask them, “Why ya’ll lookin’ up?”
         Again, this is funny, or at least ironic—The heavenly angels are on earth wondering why the earthly humans are looking up into heaven.
         Not Comedy Central worthy humor by any means, but hopefully enough to make us grin and think about it for a moment. Think about Restoration, Witness, Looking to Heaven, and Prayer.
 Let us pray,

         “Are you restoring the Kingdom of Israel?”
         It’s like they’re saying, “I know the donkey makes all the Difference… but really… now that all that unpleasantness is over—you’re going to act like we’d like you to act right? You’re going to be Messiah in a overpowering and violent manner, right?—you’ll restore us to the greatness of the Maccabees or Solomon, or David… or even some greatness that we only hold in our heads and our hearts, because it never really existed in the past…
         As some of you know I’ve been reading the works of St. Augustine, and I just finished up Books 3 and 4 of City of God
—In it Rome has just been sacked and Christian worship is blamed
—it is claimed there was a golden era of Rome until worship of the Pagan gods was stopped—to which Augustine responds,
“When was Rome great?
When were these Roman gods protecting the people?”
—and then proceeds to drop a 100 pages history of Rome behaving badly atop his society’s head.

         The same could be said to the Disciples, “What kind of Israel do you want restored? When was Israel great?”
-Not when it was ruled by judges—each generation fowled up and forgot the commandments.
-Not when David was King—his passion was erratic and cut short his own kingdom.
-Not when Solomon was King—he was constantly pulled toward foreign powers and away from God.
-Not when the Kingdom was divided…
-not when the Assyrians or Babylonians blew through,
-not the farce of the Maccabean Kingdom,
-not when the Greeks or Romans dominated…
you get the point, there is no idyllic past to pine for and idolize.

         And so too for us Church folk
—there has never been a time when there was a pure church, a ideal Christianity.
-not the earliest church in Acts, always reluctantly scrambling after the Spirit,
-not Augustine’s day, when Christians confused the Kingdom of Heaven with the Empire of Rome,
-not the Middle Ages nor the Reformation Era,
-not the puritans nor the 1950’s.
We’re always a mixed body, wheat and weeds grown together—the Church.
We’re always a few steps behind the Spirit
—not restoration, but faithful following and witness—that’s our calling.

         Witnessing to the kind of Kingdom the Kingdom of Heaven is
—that it is a kingdom of humility
—as I’ve said, the Donkey makes all the difference
—Jesus’ Kingship is one crowned in service.
For that matter, it is a Kingdom that transcends all borders
—“The Kingdom of Israel?”
A Kingdom encompassing Judea, Samaria, the whole earth.
There are no borders nor walls that can keep out the message of Christ’s love for the whole world!
Every boundary will be blown away by the ruckus spirit of Christ.

         Yet, there they are
—looking up, straining and craning their necks, up toward heaven
—having to be reminded by heavenly beings that Jesus will come without their eyes glued to the sky
—that the world around them is in need of Christ’s love through them
God’s work, Our Hands!
         That all heaven storming ambition—once put away, leaves us free, here on earth, to serve our neighbor next door, to savor the message of resurrection even as we spread it and struggle to live it out in the day to day.

         Finally, they all gather together and pray, no small thing, it calls down the Holy Spirit, which propels the church forward, despite itself, in every age.
         Now, we often pray the Lord’s prayer together—but to close today, let’s try something a little different—and pray the prayer Jesus prayed to his Father in John’s Gospel for our sake:

            "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
            "I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
            I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.
             All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
             And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. AMEN.