7A Easter 28 May 2017 Sunday after Ascension If Jesus had lived in Iowa he might have gone to Indianola to make his ascension. After all it is home of the National Hot Air Balloon Museum and used to be the site of the National Hot Air Balloon Races. I some-how picture Jesus ascending in a hot air balloon and rather like the image.
You have to love Luke, the author of Acts, for the great story. Here we are, watching this hot air balloon, or something similar, with Jesus in it, headed up, up and away, craning our necks to catch the last glimpse, when we are brought out of our stupor by two men in white robes saying the first century equivalent of you are barking up the wrong tree. He is gone. But note the very next line, “(He) will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” The hot air balloon will return with Jesus in it. We are not left alone these ten days between Ascension and Pente-cost. We have the advantage of knowing the next chapter in the story. But what if we did not? What if we had spent the last forty days in the company of the risen Jesus expecting something great to happen right then and there and have the kingdom restored to Israel? Then he says some strange words and is off. Disappointment, big time. But wait!! Let’s go back to those strange words. You may not know everything, only God does, but you will have all the tools you need to proclaim the Good News. Go back to Jerusalem and wait.
Of course, you and I know next Sunday will be that grand feast of Chris-tianity, the one that has never been apportioned by secular society, Pentecost. But this Sunday we are not there yet; this is Confusion Sun-day. How are we confused? Maybe we think that we have been once again abandoned. Frankly I am not sure what to say to those who feel that way. You believe be-cause you have seen the risen Jesus and he has made a promise of both the Holy Spirit and the return of the Father, yet you forget all of that. For us living in this time and this place, we believe in something we never actually saw or heard but we find it at times easy to give up. So Jesus said we need to stay together. We need to hold each other up. There is that zealot crowd. They think the power of God is to be earth-ly. We still have plenty of those folks, the ones who believe that the realm of God is made by us and is brought to fruition by a nation state. Jesus did not say he would send a king or queen to launch God’s reign. No, Jesus will come to complete the task. I say to those folks: make sure the governments we have govern justly and rightly and take care of all people.
Another group is the go it alone group. They know the Holy Spirit will come to them and when it does they are saved. They believe that they will feel the spirit, and rightly so, but when they do they will be set apart for salvation rather than set apart to do the work of bringing the kingdom.
The last group is what I believe the disciples finally realized that they were: a beloved community of men and women, and perhaps children, who needed the power of God working in them and through them as individuals and as a community. They knew that, even after the Holy Spirit came to them, the work would not be complete and it would be them, as a community, who sought to help complete that work, all the while waiting for the completion of the creative and redemptive work of God. We know this is hard work, for after all it has been taking place for over 2000 years and it is not done yet. We do not know the when or the where of the second coming. I think it might be easy to think yourself into being a secular humanist and atheist: what was taught by Jesus about relationships and the nature of the Kingdome is spot on, but nothing points to the existence of a God, especially when one must wait for what seems like forever.
Yet today we read also read this incredibly beautiful and intimate prayer from the Gospel of John. Jesus is praying for his community of believ-ers and they are present as he recites the prayer. He is praying for all of us as well as all of those who were with him so long ago. We are be-ing prayed into the mystery of God. We will never be one with the Fa-ther for we are not the Son or the Holy Spirit. We are not God. But we can be one with each other. When people marry, they develop a spe-cial kind of intimacy with one another and, when marriage is done right-ly, in some ways become one, just as the words of the marriage rite imply. Two friends may be so intimate that they in some ways become one. Jesus asks that we become one. He does not ask that we all look alike or think alike or dress alike, but become one as he and the Fa-ther are one. This is a oneness of mutual self-giving. When two people dance well together, they each know exactly what the next step of the other will be and each one works to perfect the moves of their partner. Maybe working towards that oneness is like the divine version of Dancing with the Stars. For me that would be an incredible amount of work. Yet when there is a misstep, one partner helps the other and the rhythm of the dance is restored.
I don’t think that Jesus was praying that we would all think alike or believe everything the same. Maybe that is why, while I most certainly be-long to a distinct denomination of Christianity, my faith is not built on a set of beliefs to which I subscribe. It is based on the great mystery of the interplay of the Trinity. For this reason the Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost is a place where I can sit for a long time. If you want me to preach certainty to you, you will be waiting an eternity. Ours is not a faith of certainty nor a faith of this is the way it is. What I find with great clarity is that there is no clarity. I am certain that cer-tainty does not exist. What I preach is Christ crucified, Jesus who died for us and became the Christ. I preach the dance of the Trinity.
We are taught to be one with each other, to dance with each other. I think that there is no better way to dance together than to pray to-gether. This is exactly what our worship is each Sunday and, I hope, what we do every day of our lives whether we are with each other, our families, or when we are with someone we don’t know or those times we are alone.
The Archbishop of Canterbury began last year a period of prayer be-tween Ascension and Pentecost called “Thy Kingdom Come”. There is a daily prayer for individuals for each day, as well as material for families and church communities. I sent links by email and urge all of you to join in with millions of others. Pray without ceasing!!
Let me close with the Prayer for Thy Kingdom Come which will be prayed as the heart of what our faith is. Almighty God, your ascended Son has sent us into the world to preach the good news of your kingdom: inspire us with your Spirit and fill our hearts with the fire of your love, that all who hear your Word may be drawn to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen