A little over a week ago, Rebecca approached me with a question. As she was preparing the lessons for the past two Sundays, the Holy Moly curriculum presented two versions of Jesus’ final days with the disciples. In the book of Matthew, the story includes the Great Commission—the charge Jesus gave those who followed him: “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life… instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:18-20, The Message). In Luke and Acts, as we heard read today, the story goes on to include Jesus’ ascension. Rebecca was wondering why the syllabus would place so much emphasis wrapping up Jesus’ time with his friends and family following his death and resurrection. Was the Ascension that important in the Christian tradition?
Hmmmmm. What do you think?
As she and I talked, I began to wonder more about these stories from Luke and Acts. In “grown up” worship, we typically skip right over the Ascension. We go straight from Easter into Pentecost. This day labeled “Ascension of the Lord” is most often relegated to a Thursday, the 40th day after Easter.
And so, in my prayerful wondering, the Spirit has led us “here” to wrestle with a topic it might be easier to pass by. We could just turn the page. But as we heard read in our midst today, Jesus tells his followers, both those with him millennia ago… and us today… to “wait here.” What gifts might be found in pausing for a moment, to “wait here,” as Jesus commands?
Are you ready?
It has been… 40 days… since Easter. Jesus is HERE, living in our midst. Now what? In the United Church of Christ, we are not a denomination of creeds. However, creeds are a part of the cloud of witnesses all around us. In fact, in the back of the black, New Century Hymnal next to your seat is the Apostles’ Creed (#881, written in 390 AD) and Nicene Creed (#883, from 451 AD). Both note that, “Jesus Christ… (who) was crucified, died, and was buried… on the third day he rose again… ascended into heaven…” (Apostles’ Creed, #881)
What was so powerful about this Jesus, and the transformative message of his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, that this event—this something—has resonated for so many people for so many years? In this concept of “ascension,” is there anything for us today? Or is this a bit of scripture on which we prayerfully reflect and then can comfortably decide “no… this is not a particularly impactful aspect of our faith story in our particular time, and in our particular context?”
What do you think?
What if we were to wait here, and watch?
What might happen?
What if, in our pausing, God is doing something old, which becomes new once again?
Something. A God Thing. Beyond our wildest imagination.
What the children learned in Sunday School was that in both the stories of Matthew and Acts, there is a commissioning. A sending. In Acts, Jesus says to his followers, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 1:8) Matthew records these words of Jesus, “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life…”
So get ready. You are, we together are, with that Great Cloud of witnesses recorded in the scriptures.
Watch for the transformation of the world into something packed with Holy Hope. Holy Imagination.
For I too have a story.
A story of the life of the Church.
A story of seasons, cycles, and colors that come around again and again. A narrative of the passing of a mantel. The Ascension of the Holy. And the urgent need for us to understand that the “power of the Spirit has come upon (us)” (Acts 1:8). US! The old made new again.
Wait here. This is my story. I invite you to listen. Be a witness.
For maybe, just maybe, the Spirit will fall once again with tongues of flame.
Because, what if… just what if God is transforming the world into something new? Right. Now. Something never before imagined.
For there is another ascension story in the Hebrew scriptures, in the book of 2 Kings (chapter 2): “Just before God took Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and (his student) Elisha were on a walk… Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here. God has sent me on (ahead).’ Elisha said, ‘Not on your life! I’m not letting you out of my sight!’ (2 Kings, 2:1-2, The Message). Three times Elijah says, “stay here,” but Elisha follows to witness Elijah’s ascension into heaven.
And then “…it happened… Suddenly a chariot and horses of fire came between them and Elijah went up in a whirlwind to heaven. Elisha saw it all… When he could no longer see anything, he grabbed his robe and ripped it to pieces. Then he picked up Elijah’s (mantle) that had fallen from him (and) returned to the shore of the Jordan…” (2 Kings, 2:11-13, The Message).
Now, my story. I shared a portion of it a few weeks ago. I would like to tell you a bit more. For it is a commissioning story. A part of who we are as followers of Jesus. A looking up. And the Holy Spirit falling down. And each of us responding by picking up a mantle.
The “mantles,” or stoles, that I have before you are the purple of Lent, and the white of Easter. Back in March, during the “purple season” in the life of the Church (or Lent), I mentioned that the Rev. Jack Hicks—my spiritual mentor—had died. Jack was my Elijah.
Remembering Jack today, I can’t help but look around and reflect on how he impacted so many people, in so many different congregations. Even if you didn’t know Jack, know that without him I would not be a pastor today. In my remembering, I can’t help but smile and think about—wait for it—Holy Folly.
Holy Folly because, in my own relationship with God, Jack was the first person who affirmed that it is OK to play with the Spirit and have fun with Holy Imagination. Holy Folly because, fifteen years ago as I began to question out loud what this God Stuff in my life that was stirring might be, Jack had the wisdom, and insight, (and possibly the folly) to take a risk and encourage me to step into where the Spirit was leading.
Jack gave to me the gift of not boxing in “how church should be,” or “how you should be,” or “how I should be,” but of stretching boundaries and letting God reveal “what can be.” And then Jack would smile widely when “God Happened.”
Back in March, Jack laid down his mantle, and died. He and the giant stuffed Elmo that always sat on a chair in his office (Elmo, that great preacher and theologian)—Jack had taught me to see death not as an end, but as a widening of life. When I think of the disciples, friends, and family of Jesus gathered in grief after witnessing (or in the case of some, running away from) Jesus’ horrific death, and then walking together… working together… eating together… breaking bread together… following the resurrection…
I see Holy Folly happening once again. Jesus with them. Living. Teaching. Feeding.
And then… wait. Wait here.
Wait for someone… or someones… to pick up the mantle. Big mantles. Small mantles. But no matter large or small, to move forward. Pick up. To move forward and pick up God’s Holy Imagination.
In “grown up” worship, we typically skip right over the Ascension. We go straight from Easter into Pentecost. What might we be missing in not sharing this final encounter with Christ? Have we waited here long enough? Have we waited here long enough to hear, and understand, as Jesus tells us again that all is becoming new once more… God with us and through us…
Isn’t it time for us to move forward and pick up God’s Holy Imagination of the world transformed?
This is God’s Holy Hope.
Beloved, in our waiting, our wondering, we have been commissioned. Jesus has said to us: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…” wherever you go.
God is doing something old, and all is becoming new again.
Something beyond our wildest imagination.
I share my story, because it arises out of the waiting, the teachings of a mentor, and a sending out. For it is another place, another time, that is arising as an unexpected group of disciples, friends, and family, gather to witness something new. That time my friends, that place, is HERE. It is NOW. It is us.
The United Church of Christ’s General Synod will happen later this month, as 5,000 UCCer’s from around the country meet in Milwaukee for worship, service, advocacy, and doing the business of the church. In preparing for General Synod Rev. Franz Rigert, our Wisconsin Conference Minister, notes that, “when we light just one candle in the darkness, it illuminates dimly, but when many candles are lit, and all let their lights shine, together we can bring brightness to the world.”
Memorial UCC, look up.
See what God is doing.
And may your flame be lit.
May thousands, and millions, and billions of flames be lit.
May the world, in our coming together, be transformed by the Holy Folly of the Spirit falling on us anew.
A God Thing beyond our wildest imagination.
Pentecost is coming…
Reflection on Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-53 offered on June 2, 2019
Image is from Holy Moly: Ascension
 “General Synod.” General Synod. Accessed May 27, 2019. https://www.synod2019.org/en/uccsynod2019/about