Stay

Acts 1: 1-11; Luke 24: 46-53

If you listen to these gospel stories each week, you know that they all have their own spin on it, Luke included whom we hear from on Ascension this year. They’re writing to specific communities with it’s own issues and concerns and Luke, often though Jesus, has a message he wants to convey. You add in his own history and story, then you also get a gist of his own journey and understanding of who the Christ was and is.

One thing that sets Luke’s version apart, in the end, is that he’s the only one that puts the words in Jesus’ mouth to have the disciples stay in Jerusalem until they are somehow clothed in glory, whatever the heck that means. Matthew and Mark send the disciples back to Galilee and now they will see things differently, through the lens of what it is they have just experienced. But Luke will have none of that. He simply commands that they stay in the city.

Why the heck would they want to do that? Certainly they wouldn’t choose that on their own. Jerusalem, at this point of the story, is a source of much conflict, not much different than it is today. They’re told to stay in the place that has been the place of such grief and loss, having to watch their friend suffer and die upon the cross. They’re told to stay in the place of great fear from the political and religious authorities who now really want the disciples out of the picture. It was one thing when this movement was contained to one person, in Jesus, it’s another when it begins to spread like wildfire through the disciples. Why on earth would he tell them to stay there, a place where life is so fragile and death knocks so closely at their door?

One thing is different about Luke, believing that he was a doctor of sorts, and maybe he understood pain a little different than the other writers. That if all of this was going to make sense, they were going to have to be patient with their struggles and continue to persevere through them. Jerusalem became symbolic in that way for the disciples and what they had witnessed and what they would witness to in their own lives. In our own culture and world, we do everything in our power to medicate ourselves from our pain, whether it’s through prescription drugs or other means, we find ways to avoid the pain and skirt around it. Luke presents a different way to the disciples and to us. He tells us by staying in Jerusalem until we are clothed from on high, we will learn to push through and be pushed through our pain and suffering. It’s the only way that the scandal of the Cross is the glory of the Cross, all at the same time. The city that sits on a hill has been the place of great loss and also the eternal city.

We always run the risk on these feasts to make them into something historical or something that will come later in life, but they are about today. In confronting and staying in Jerusalem today, we begin to see that all the conflict around us, the fear and anxiety, is really within us. It’s why we want to run so fast from it and do everything in our power to avoid it. Ironically, though, it’s the place that we find true power and our greatest gift. Staying in Jerusalem is important for the disciples and for us. They only way we can go out as they do in Acts of the Apostles is because they’ve allowed their Jerusalem and the scandal of the Cross there to be transformed into Glory by staying with it and remaining patient with themselves and this God that continues to reveal in different ways.

This feast isn’t just about the past nor about the future, but first and foremost, about today. It’s about the life that God desires for us today and to, as the opening prayer tells us today, to be led to where the Head had called us to go. Life would be quite dismal if we never moved beyond the cross. It would be depressing and we’d live a life of victimhood. But if we stay long enough, something begins to happen. Our pain is transformed and this space is created. It’s not an abandonment of God or even a withdrawal, but rather a widening of our hearts for something new, a life in the Spirit, that we will celebrate next week on Pentecost.

As we gather on this feast, we gather at many different places in life. So of us remain stuck in the darkness of Jerusalem, living in hope that we will be seen through to the freedom we desire. We know what that’s like. Some of us may find ourselves living in that Spirit and yet still question in my own frail humanity. We know that as well. Wherever we find ourselves, though, we are simply invited as the disciples are today, to stay. To stay with it. Stay with our Jerusalem. When we stay long enough, the message first delivered in Luke’s Gospel will come to fruition in our own, the impossible will begin to happen. Like Mary and Jesus, we will turn our lives and hearts over to this God, who meets us in Jerusalem, with the great desire to cloth us from on high and to lead us into the new creation we call our lives.

So Now What?!?

 

Acts 1: 1-11; Eph 1: 17-23; Matthew 28: 16-20

So now what? I can hear those thoughts and words working within the disciples on this Feast of Ascension, wondering what the heck is going on! The readings give the illusion that for the disciples, it’s a lot like the Cross of Good Friday, Jesus leaving and abandoning them and now here he is again, leaving and they’re left wondering, so now what? Why is he leaving again? Now what do we do? Where do we go from here and what is this Spirit that is spoken of? A people already with limited view, questioning everything, misinterpreting the meaning of their lives, and so now what’s he asking of us?

Yet, the simple message that Luke puts in the mouth of Jesus to the disciples is quite simple, “wait.” They aren’t quite ready for what is to come and what’s about to happen and so they are told to wait, and let’s face it, we don’t like to wait and we aren’t good at waiting. We want things now or yesterday but to know what’s next we must first, like the disciples, wait. Their hearts aren’t ready to go where the Head, Christ, has gone, ascending to the Father. Their hearts continue to hold them back. They are weighed down from ascending by the fears, their doubts, their questions, and all they can do is simply gaze at the sky wondering where’s he going and what’s next. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians today to seek enlightened eyes of the heart. But of course, that waiting that he asks of us doesn’t come easy but gradually, as we allow ourselves to be open to the Spirit that we anticipate on Pentecost, slowly Mystery makes progress in our lives and hearts and we can begin to let go. We can begin to let go of the doubts, the questions, the fears, the uncertainties, the anxieties that hold us back and weigh down our hearts. It gets to the point where we can begin to feel our heart being drawn out of us to return home, to ascend to the Head, in Christ, where it desires to be, where it wants to be. But until then, we wait.

It’s probably where most of us often find ourselves. We find ourselves holding onto a heavy heart and not wanting to let it go. But even for the disciples, this feast was a necessary one. Jesus once again shows the way. If Jesus were to stay, he remains bound to time and space, but the great commission given in today’s gospel is one that takes them beyond time and space. It’s one that takes them to the ends of the earth and until the end of the age, forming disciples to witness to his love and forgiveness. They want it. We want it; we feel ourselves being pulled from the confines of our pews to go out and proclaim the good news with our lives. So what’s holding me back? Now what has to happen before I commit myself to live this great commission? Maybe we just have to wait, open ourselves to the Spirit breaking in, allowing what holds us back to be let go from us, and gradually our heart is set on fire, flying high, for we too are no longer held back by time and space and our now sent to the ends of the earth! On this Feast of Ascension, we pray for a readiness of that Spirit coming upon us on Pentecost that we too can set the world ablaze as disciples of Christ!

Ascending Music

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Acts 1: 1-11; Luke 24: 46-53

In a conversation with a parishioner last week, we were talking about the impact that music has in our lives.  If a song comes on the radio or up on our iPod, we can almost instantly be transported to a different time and space in our lives because it has become attached to a memory, for good or bad.  Even here in church, songs remind us of weddings and funerals, make us smile or cry.  Music, more than any other part of our culture, has that kind of impact on our lives.  Even if it’s a song of thirty years ago, it feels like yesterday.  We are transported to another place as if the spirit of it all still remains with us.

As hard as this Feast is hard to preach on and even more difficult to understand since it is so connected with Resurrection and Pentecost, I do believe that our experience of music is much like this feast for the disciples, a song that comes from within their hearts and they’re just beginning to learn to tune into it.  It won’t be the typical song on the iPod, but rather one composed of Jesus’ words and actions that will finally begin to make sense.  From this moment forward, Jesus is no longer confined by space and time, but now reaches to the ends of the earth, which is where they will now be sent to share the good news.

But the disciples aren’t there yet.  The song is still unknown, and so Luke tells them stay put. Go back to Jerusalem where the passion and death had taken place, and stay there until God brings you to the point of understanding of what has gone on.  They may know the verses and the notes of the song, but it still has not become the masterpiece that they and us will come to know, that this leaving they witness to is not an end, but rather a new beginning for them and us into a larger world; for now, they remain in Jerusalem waiting to be composed in order to be sent out.  The song begins to come together when they remember the words and actions–the forgiveness, the repentance, healings, and words, then finally it will begin to make sense that Jerusalem was a necessary stop on the journey but not the place to dwell; a place of transformation in order to rise and ascend, a place where the power from on high will come upon them and the Spirit will lead them out to live the mission of the Christ.  Not to be found by looking up in the clouds, as Luke tells them, but forward in witnessing to the Christ within and recognizing the Christ in the other.  It is then that the song comes together and they can finally move beyond Jerusalem.

As we celebrate this great Feast and prepare for the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost next Sunday, we may find ourselves in Jerusalem, listening to the same song over and over again, dwelling in our own pain and suffering but also learning from it.  Today is the day of hope that the pain and suffering is not the end, that the masterpiece of our own lives will one day come together and we, like the disciples at the end of the Gospel today, will give thanks to God.  For the first time we will recognize that the song of our lives had nothing to do with us, but rather is God working through and within us, the presence of Christ in the flesh.  And when the song finally comes together, we too will know what resurrection and ascension is all about in this moment and drop to our knees, not to look up in the sky, but to thank God knowing that it was the Christ composing all along, taking us beyond space and time, leading us to the masterpiece of our lives.