God'sAs we can see from this text, today is Ascension Sunday. Or what my dear friend Rev. Dawn describes as, “The day Jesus started working from home.”
James Liggett reminds us that the Ascension “is not about gravity, or the physical location of heaven, or any of that. It is about God.” Although it comes at the end of Easter, The Ascension is really about Christmas. It completes the story of God who came to be one with us in the flesh of Jesus, and who is now joined in all his fleshiness to be forever one with God.
Because Jesus has returned to heaven in his human form, the reality and experience, the scars of being a human person, is a part of God’s reality and experience now. The fear and anxiety, the pain and suffering, the frustrations and joys we experience every day God gets it. And God’s got it. That’s the basic lesson of the Ascension.
In the book The Last Lecture, a college professor gives his final message to the world before his impending death. In this last class he offers them meaningful life advice, words of wisdom, and a great deal of optimism and hope for humanity.
Jesus did something similar as well before he died. He taught his students all that they needed to know to bring hope and optimism into God's Kingdom. But instead of standing in classroom giving a lecture, Jesus stands on the graduation stage, giving this charge:
“Be my witnesses.”
The disciples have earned their degrees. And are ready to hit the ground running. They are not given the summer off. Or allowed to take a gap year. Instead, they quickly exchange their caps and gowns for suits and ties to bear witness to “how God has broken into human affairs by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.”
I was blessed to have gotten a job immediately following both of my graduations. After I earned my bachelor’s degree, I got a job as a jr. Copywriter at the L.A. office of Ogilvy & Mather, a global ad agency.
But after receiving my Master of Divinity, I was called to lead a church in small rural town in western Michigan. Which seemed fitting for a ministerial job considering that Jesus doesn’t send these grads out to testify in their own neighborhood. He sends the “to the ends of the earth.”
He tells them to take the gospel to those places they’ve never heard of; places they’ve been warned not to go. Go out there in my name, loving and serving and caring for people who don’t look like you, or think like you, or even like you. Some might even want to hurt you. And others will succeed at doing it.
In what Joseph Fitzmyer calls the “programmatic verse” of Acts, Jesus pours the foundation of the Christian church and the scope of the Christian’s life is set. If you’re going to follow the Risen Christ, then you have to be his witnesses in any and every space.
Anamesa is more than a name, it’s a way of living out Christ’s name in the space between. For every space is sacred, God space. An opportunity to be and show the love of God so others can see who they truly are - beloved children of God.
We each must ask ourselves, “Knowing I’ve been sent by Jesus, will I leave here today proclaiming the good news?”
You don’t have to be heading off to college in the fall to see how this is a scary and anxiety inducing question. The world is still far removed from the kingdom Jesus ushered in.
Just as the world rejected him, there’s a good chance we too will be rejected. But knowing the human and divine are forever One, this challenge is also exciting and life giving.
Colleen is going out on her own. But I know that she will make new friends and form new bonds in at her new school. In each new space she will enter, she can bear witness to God’s great love, mercy and grace by being those things for others.
“Go and be my witness to the ends of the earth.”
We are his people. Easter people. Called to proclaim the good news of the resurrection. We are fully alive because Christ is truly alive in us and all around us. He is the bridge between us and them, just as he is between the human and divine.
As I’ve been saying throughout this entire series, the church is not a static building or institution. It’s a living, breathing, thriving organism. It’s you and me, and everything in between.
Jesus sends us out into Anamesa to make the gospel come alive in every little nook and cranny of life.
As his followers we are called out to be the "salt that brings God-flavors to the earth"; to be the "light that brings God-colors to the world" (Matthew 5:13-14 MSG).
With his own life Jesus taught us how to be kind and generous with our own. How to love and honor and welcome all people just as God has loved and honored and welcomed us.
Life is a journey where we wander between human beings and being human. Our pilgrim path is a delicate and deliberate way where every act of love towards one another, moves us one step closer to God.
As John the Evangelist wrote in his first epistle, “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is perfected within us” (1 John 4:12).
We are the Great Commandment people, who love God and love others. And we are the Great Commission people who carry that love to the ends of the earth.
This is what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to be the Body of Christ.
As the disciples will soon discover, life does not magically become easier once they get their diploma.
Being the church is not a day job, it’s a lifelong calling; a life-giving calling; one that embraces and encompass the resurrected life of Christ Jesus who gave the assurance that you will receive the power to do what is asked of you, “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8).
Next week we will finally celebrate Pentecost when this promise becomes a reality. Once filled with power from above, the Apostles will go out fearlessly - to love God, love others and serve both.
They will teach us how to be, as Henri Nouwen wrote, “windows constantly offering each other new views on the mystery of God’s presence in our lives.”
Through Christ we share one heart with one another. And with God. We have become heirs to his holy lineage. Through him, we are now a part of God, just as God has always been a part of us.
Today, we are given a choice. We can stand around looking up at the heavens wondering when Christ will return (Acts 1:10-11).
Or we can walk together in his likeness, as the fullest expressions of God’s love, paying careful attention to that space between our steps.
That holy and sacred space here where Christ comes to meet us in the other. And where Christ will come again to raise us all up in his glory.
Adapted from my sermon Onward, Let’s Go on May 24, 2020.
Barclay, William. The Acts of the Apostles, Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955.
Bartlett, David L, Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010.
Godin, Seth. seths.blog. May 23, 2020.(accessed May 23, 2020).
Liggett, James. Today is the Sunday. May 12, 2002. (Accessed on May 19, 2023).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”