Acts 1.15-17, 21-26 and John 17.6-19.
We’re in a busy, funny time in the church year:
When all of a sudden everything’s getting shifted around as,
now past the “mortal Jesus period,”
we’re even moving past the “risen, but still right with us Jesus period,”
into what we’ve known ever since,
“the ascended but still with us Jesus era,”
— maybe we could call it the” Jesus in the Spirit period.”
Now this isn’t just moving the theological furniture around
like we too often try in the church,
rearranging our ecclesiastical furniture
when we get nervous and feel the need to make a change,
too often just pretending we’re making that changes God’s waiting for us on.
No, these are profound changes.
Movements in heaven and on earth.
Changes deep in our hearts and minds.
With Jesus ascending.
And the disciples coming to realize that their discipleship can’t be a closed club.
Though they haven’t quite gotten all the way to “there’s always room for one more.”
And truth be told, sooner rather than later,
their criterion for choosing Judas’ replacement
— someone who was with Jesus all along —
is going to look outdated and obsolete,
as next Sunday the Spirit is to be given and the church born
and the welcoming of disciples who never knew Jesus in the flesh
pretty much becomes one of the point of it all
from that time on until the end,
with Paul being the great model for the rest of us ever since.
But there’s another point that’s coming to the fore
with the arrival of the Spirit and the birth of the church.
It’s something Jeus is praying in the prayer that was our second reading this morning,
though it’s a bit buried in all that John has Jesus saying to God.
This prayer of Jesus in John is part of a long section known as the farewell discourses.
I wonder though, is this really what Jesus sounded like?
Was he one of thoser pray-ers whose words piled up so you can hardly follow?
It’s not what he prayed like in the Lord’s Prayer.
And I wonder if this sounded different in the Aramaic.
Or maybe it sounds better in John’s Greek?
All this “I am in you, and you in me” or
“all mine are yours and yours are mine.”
Maybe a couple of generations after Jesus actually prayed in person with his disciples, …maybe “Jesus written down” doesn’t always sound like “Jesus in the flesh” did.
Or perhaps we’re hearing some of the accent of the Holy Spirit.
Or is this prayer in the style of the theological musings and philosophical synthesis
of a latter-day community trying to put together and make sense of,
translate into a common belief and a daily practice
all that they had received through the tradition from Jesus?
However we account for this dense prayer,
buried behind all of John’s relational talk
(the fruit and the vine was a bit more graphic and memorable!) , right here as we listen in on this prayer,
there’s a promise.
some direction for how we are to lead our lives,
an insight about what our lives mean and our faith is about.
But it’s easy to miss.
But if we dig a bit,
and we’re willing to work,
then you’re willing to work,
there’s a gem here.
Jesus explains something important in what he prays to God.
If we listen, we’ll hear Jesus tell explain something
that we too might find ourselves walking on holy ground.
Let me remind you something about the Gospel of John:
in the 4th Gospel,
unlike in Matthew, Mark and Luke,
the cross is not humiliation, but exaltation.
God’s great lifting up of the Christ in an act of salvation.
Remember: he sent the Son into the world,
not to condemn the world.
but that the world might be saved.
But it’s not the cross alone.
In John’s understanding, incarnation, cross, resurrection, ascension are not separate events.
Rather, they are all stages in a grand salvific movement of God,
steps in one whole and holy, and complete event, God’s action of salvation.
So, with the Ascension, you might say that God has done what God needed to do.
At least the unilateral action of God,
the big tour de force movements have been accomplished, completed.
And now the actions shifts.
And Jesus leaves, but we stay.
The primary actor had been God,
but with the giving of the Spirit and the birth of the church,
God begins to work through us,
the body of Christ,
Do you see,
we’re at a turning point in the story,
leaving behind what Jesus himself does
in order to move into what we, the church does.
I don’t know really. It’s God’s plan not mine.
But I can tell you,
this next stage,
where it’s up to us,
it’s not some test. Or some punishment.
But our chance to participate and become holy actors in our own right.
The action shifts to disciples, apostles, to us,
because God has a place for us to participate in this great salvific history.
The founding of the church, the coming of the Spirt,
they’re almost like our commissioning.
Our turn to take on the mantle of Christ.
Now we as his followers are to do what he did.
…making manifest the grace and mercy and peace of the God
“who loves the world so much to send us.”
These are the tasks of the church collectively
— in two ways:
~ doing it together as a community, as well as
~ motivating and supporting its members individually,
…for it is the calling of all of us who wish to be disciples, Christ’s followers.
Ministering and preaching with our lives.
Teaching and caring for those in need.
Listening, challenging, sharing…
What I wish, however,
What I worry about,
is that the church has to do a better job
of helping our people realize
how their whole lives can be means for contributing to God’s work,
participating with God in making — or remaking — the world as God means it to be and become.
What worries me, church,
that we too quickly and completely bifurcate our lives,
dividing the sacred and the profant.
We only think of ministry as what the church does.
Or God help us, what a minister does.
What if we could really sanctify, as Jesus prays for us,
the ordinary, daily tasks of our lives,
so we could see and feel and know and believe
that our everydays are a part of God’s great plan?
Can the church teach its people to recognize
our work and play and family life and community life and civic involvement and volunteer work and even our random acts of kindness —
that all of these ordinary and often mundane things,
are also work and service that honors our Creator
and advance God’s plan of salvation?
Because they are.
Any honest and caring act, indeed, help care for this world
and the people God loves so much…
Any honest and caring act can thereby participate in the glory Jesus talks about.
Why am I saying this?
Because the average Christian in this congregation
— and the extraordinary Christian most days too —
has little to no sense that our off hours or unrecognized daily tasks…
that what we do with most of our lives
matters to God and the church.
Doubt me on this?
how often do I identify or recognize
that what I do on a daily basis counts as God’s work?
I don’t mean the once in a life time days,
or even the extraordinary moments —
this past week when I helped an elderly Chinese woman hit by a hit and run driver,
I made the Good Samaritan connection.
But what about when I cook dinner for a friend.
Or greet the subway token clerk at the Girard Station.
Or interact with another patient at the physical therapy.
Or hug a friend who needs to feel some love.
I have the advantage of being recognized and knowing myself as a minister.
But the rest of you — do you recognize the little moments of your day as important to God?
Church, if we don’t remedy this disconnect, help ourselves make the connection between this hour or two on Sun. morning
and the other 166 hours of our lives everywhere else…
…well, as our lives get more crowded and demanding,
will we continue to dedicate the time to worship?
…I mean if we don’t understand and claim church
as what supports and informs and nurtures the rest of our lives
and what we do with them,
will we make room for church in our overbooked lives?
And, on the other hand, if we see and value the connection,
how much more valuable will church be for us.
Maybe something we recognize we can’t afford to miss…
So here’s how my Ascension Sunday sermon is going to finish.
It’s going to call for some more courage on the preacher’s part.
And also for some courage on the worshipers’ part.
We’re going to sit in silence.
Louis, if you feel moved,
you can give us some meditative music to make the silence a bit more comfortable.
But we’re going to sit and try to make the connections.
Ask God prayerfully
to help us see how what we do daily,
— not the big church effort,
or the grand justice cause,
not the unusual sacrifices or
rare moments of heroism,
but the regular stuff…
How’s the regular stuff also God stuff?
How do our daily plans contribute to God’s plan of salvation for this world?
If you can come up with something that you recognize should count,
when you find yourself able to make a connection between what you do and God’s will,
some way where the small and everyday contribute to all God means for this world,
just as surely as Jesus related to God,
then I’m going to ask you stand up.
It’s Ascension after all.
The least we can do is take to our feet.
I might ask some of you to share the connection you made.
I might just say a prayer and ask God to sanctify our everyday actions.
Your going to have to trust me on this, and take a chance.
Church, Jesus left us behind in this world for good.
Not that he won’t come back and get us,
but that he means for us to do many things before we see him again.
Church, celebrate all the ways, small and big,
God is at work in and through us.
Give thanks for the disciples in this church
to whom Jesus has entrusted his work.
Give thanks that Jesus make room for you to play your part.
To use your whole life as a part of God’s love and care for this world.
God is with us always
to help us not merely persevere but also to flourish
(that’s what the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is!) AND
God means for us to commit to this world, these people, our places, here and now.
Glory, eternity, relationship with God —
these things are always in the present tense in John’s Gospel,
and we are commissioned and blessed to participate in this work
and to share this amazing promise.
And as you stand
know that your recognition and claiming of your everyday ministries
is certainly part of their sanctification…
(Michael then sat for some minutes, before rising, as others had, and praying a prayer of blessing over the disciples and their everyday ministries.)