Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ascension sunday 2012...

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for this coming Sunday, May 27th, 2012:  Ascension Sunday.  It will be a lot of fun with music, testimonies as well as welcoming in new members.  Blessings.

In many ways, the lessons for this day – the Feast of the Ascension – make no obvious sense.  In fact, for some these readings are not only bewildering, but embarrassing, too.
They invite us to pause and wait – for power from on high – and we often have more important things to do. They speak to us of Christ being raised bodily into the heavens and that not only violates the way we know the world works, but sounds superstitious or stupid to our educated minds. They ask us to join the Lord Jesus in worship and study – all the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms he told the disciples have to be fulfilled.  So he went on to open their understanding of the Word of God, showing them how to read their Bibles in a new way – and many of us would rather be entertained.

Now please understand that I don’t say this to shame or upset you:  it would seem that human beings have ALWAYS been too busy, too smart and too distracted to take Jesus seriously.  Just look at the deeper truth below the literal words of today’s stories:

+ The Master tells us (as he told his first friends) that we are to be the evidence and proof of God’s grace:  You are my witnesses… I am sending what my Father promised to you, a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins… and you are to go share this in his name to all nations.

+ And after speaking these last words he was taken up and disappeared as if in a cloud – and what did his friends do?  They stood there, staring into the empty sky…  Are you with me? The Bible says they stood there staring up into an empty sky…

+ Until what?  Until suddenly two men appeared—in white robes – and said, "You Galileans!—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky?  This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come again as certainly—and mysteriously—as he left.  So get to work now just as he told you!"

It would seem that the fullness of God’s loving grace made flesh in Jesus Christ cannot be grasped or experienced fully all at once.  There are parts of God’s grace that seem mysterious to us – hidden – and complex.  So just as God took time with the first disciples in order for them to wrestle with these mysteries, we take a full year together to talk about these mysteries – to go beyond the obvious – and to look for signs of God’s love in the ups and downs of real life.  That’s what the Church Calendar is all about – it is a resource to help us pause, wait, worship and take all the time we need to discover God’s power from on high – and if we’re paying attention, year after year, these mysteries point us towards God’s healing truth. 

Gertrud Mueller-Nelson, one of my favorite Christian educators, explains it like this:

In the mystery of Christmas, the divine unites with the human, and Jesus – the God-Man – spent time among us in the body.  His body suffered and died.  But the mystery of Easter is that the body of Christ also rose – not as a ghost, but in a new and spiritual way – to be real and present. And now, in the mystery of the ascension, we learn that the historical and embodied Jesus must be raised up into the clouds of eternity so that his work can become flesh in the hearts and actions of all of us right here and now.

Is that point clear?  Each and all of us need time to learn how watch and wait – and – we all need time to name and claim the mysterious signs of God’s grace that are offered to us in our real lives.  We can’t do this if we’re in a hurry.  We can’t do this if we’re too self-absorbed. 

And we can’t do this without a commitment to going deeper. That’s the first insight I hope you will embrace on this special day:  it takes time to grow as the Lord’s disciples. 

The second insight is this:  like those who first loved Jesus, it also takes us time to realize that Christ’s mission of grace and compassion is now built upon you and me, yes?  Many people become adults and miss this entirely, but the essence of Christ’s ascension is this:

We are his body now – in a different form to be sure – but still the flesh and blood evidence of the way of the Lord in the world.

+  So the sharing of Christ’s grace in the world has now been transferred to… you and me.

That’s at the heart Ascension Sunday.  Think of it like this: “In the mystery of the incarnation – Jesus becoming flesh in the world through the Advent/Christmas story – the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary who gave birth to Emmanuel:  God-with-us…. “(Nelson, To Dance with God, p. 188) By faith, she let God work within her to bring Christ into the world.

Now God comes to us again, but not as a man, but as a Spirit so that we   In our body, and in One Body to one another, we carry on the work of the Lord’s grace in our time.

+ That’s why Jesus called us his witnesses:  we are to embody his love by how we speak and think – how we use our money and time – how we share or withhold grace.

+ So I want you to take a few moments to consider how you do precisely that:  how do you make Christ’s love flesh and blood?  How are your hands making Christ real today?  How are your words bringing God’s grace to life? How are you helping your church mature in truth and grace?

And to assist you, I’m going to give you three living examples:

+ First, a brief musical meditation on discipleship and grace created in love by some of our community’s members …

+ Second, a spoken testimony about why this congregation matters so much to one of our members…

+ And third, the welcoming into membership of three new friends who will join us as Christ’s witnesses to the world…

Three different testimonies – all offered in love – all part of Christ’s work within and among as at this moment in time – and all are an invitation to go deeper.

The words I have to say may well be simple but they're true
until you give your love there's nothing more that we can do.
Love is the opening door; love is what we came here for;
no one could offer you more:
Do you know what I mean? Have your eyes really seen?

You say it's very hard to leave behind the life we knew
But there's no other way and now it's really up to you
Love is the key we must turn; truth us the flame we must burn;
Freedom the lesson we must learn.
Do you know what I mean? Have your eyes really seen?

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