“Under Authority” Luke 7:1-10

This is usually a difficult Sunday to preach because of mixed expectations.

The church has its calendar and flow, and in the season of Pentecost it is all about understanding the teaching of Jesus and how it is to be carried out by those of us who now are called to be his disciples.  We pour over the stories of what Jesus did and what Jesus said, and we lift up the actions of the early church to see how they interpreted, followed, and responded to the call to follow Jesus.

Pentecost is the season of the growth of the church, and it is meant to be about our own growth in faith, love, and an understanding of grace.

But the secular calendar imposes a holiday, Memorial Day, where somehow the church has to connect up those who have served their nation and fallen in war with the Prince of Peace who was crucified for being an insurrectionist, speaking out against the nation and the empire of that time.

That can be a strained and tenuous connection to maintain.

So very often the sermon just glances over Jesus and lauds the sacrifice of soldiers.

Or, the sermon talks about Jesus and feels like it neglects the sacrifices made by those who served their King or Country.

But curiously enough, today’s Gospel gives us a bridge to connect, a way to combine the values upon which military disciple depend and through which the actions of disciples are forged.

We are, all of us, the Gospel reminds us, under authority.

Understanding that becomes key to honoring both those who lived the call to duty, and those who continue to live out the call to conscience and to faith.

Context is everything in understanding this Gospel lesson.

Luke has been engaged in giving an “orderly account” of the events of Jesus.   He sets up in the events from chapter 4 on that there is something about the city of Capernaum that is significant.

It is in Capernaum that Jesus does amazing works that are recognized far and wide.

The hometown crowd hears about what Jesus does in Capernaum, and they expect Jesus to do the same kind of works among them at home in Nazareth.

Presumably, this Centurion with an ill slave has heard of Jesus as well.    He has heard enough of Jesus to know that he has the power to intervene in illness, and so sends word to have Jesus come and heal his highly valued slave.

The Jewish leaders we are told are scurrying around with reasons to convince Jesus that the Centurion is worthy of this favor, “he built our synagogue.”

But worthiness is not on Jesus’ mind at all.

Nor is the matter of how to motivate Jesus to do this on the mind of the Centurion.   It’s not that he is pulling in favors, or trying to manipulate the actions of Jesus.   In fact, he says out loud that he is not worthy to have Jesus under his roof!

No, this is a matter of duty and honor.

As one “under authority” the Roman Centurion knows how authority works.

He has no obligation to care about a slave, but he does have a duty to caring for an asset.

The slave we are told is “highly valued.” Replacing this slave would be inefficient, it would be better to have him restored to health, and Jesus has the power to do that, and so, the only question is will Jesus do it?

But that is a question that is weighted here with another layer of duty, honor and a sense of authority.

“After Jesus had finished all his sayings….” We are told.  That’s when he comes back to Capernaum.

And just what were those sayings Jesus had delivered?

In Luke 6 we get the Beatitudes, and the command to love the enemy, and the warning against judging.

This is the agenda set for Jesus.

In Luke 4 Jesus had read from the scroll of Isaiah.  He had proclaimed that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to preach good news, to heal, to release the captive, to proclaim the year of Jubilee – and all of this was beginning now.

What Jesus has professed to be central to his coming, now comes to the time of testing.  If this is what God has commanded you, and your followers to do, Jesus, then it is time to see if you will!   Will you submit to the authority of God laid before you as your duty, your task?

“Love your enemy and do good to those who hate you?”   Here is the opportunity.

If you are indeed under the authority of God, Jesus; and this is what God has commanded you to do, then you will heal my slave.

Jesus will do this not because he wants to, or because he thinks the Centurion is worthy of it for building a synagogue, or because he things the Centurion is a particularly good guy.

No, Jesus will do this as a matter of duty, honor and obedience to the one who has commanded you, given him orders and the authority to proclaim God’s Kingdom.

Jesus will do this for the Centurion’s slave, because of the authority under which he lives.  He is given the authority by a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, who has given all authority in heaven and on earth to do just these things… to heal the sick.

Here is our bridge to Memorial Day as a people of faith.

Whether you slogged across a beach on D-Day or pushed a pencil back in the states to get the supplies to the lines, you did it not because you wanted to, or because you felt like it.  No, you did it but because you were under authority to do it, to make that happen.

You did it because it was your duty.

It was commanded of you by a Nation that you loved and that called upon you to serve it, to protect it, to value what it stood for in the face of the enemy.

You did it whether you were Axis or Allied.

You did it whether you were civilian or military.

You did it whether you were resistance or sympathizer.

What you did, you did because you were under authority, and out of a sense of love for that authority and what it stood for.   You felt it and you knew it.

Whether you waded through swamps or sand dunes, piloted a plane or a desk, served in active duty or kept the home fires burning and used ration tickets so that a war effort could be maintained, you did so because you understood authority and how it worked.

You had much asked of you, because the cause was just, or the need was great, or the understanding of the time was such that you believed ways of life and belief hung in the balance, and so you were compelled by your love of an authority greater than yourself to act, to serve, to give, for some even the last full measure.

This is the critical move.

This is the crucial understanding that surprises, amazes even Jesus here.

The Centurion “gets” what it is to live under authority.

He gets what it is to act and live out of a sense of duty, honor, and authority.

 I say to one, “Go,’ and he goes, and to another, “Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 

“….only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”  Says the Centurion.

When you understand what it is to live under authority like this, and to act because it is a matter of duty and honor done for something you love and care about greater than yourself, then you can keep Memorial Day well.

You can honor those of every nation who acted out of a sense of honor and duty.

You can hallow the ground that received them, and put away the differences that brought about the war in the first place.

You get an understanding of living under authority right, and everything else falls into place.

This is the struggle for us as we follow Jesus.  We sometimes think of faith as a choice, an option we can exercise.  When we approach it like that, faith does indeed become a struggle.

“I just don’t feel like worship today.   I don’t like the music choices, or the hymns, and I really wish the pastor had more interesting sermons, or we had bigger choir, or a better organ, or…..”

You get the picture.

Authority has shifted, it is no longer something you are under, you’ve become the authority, pushed God out of the picture.  This is the very definition of sin, having everything revolve around you instead of ordering your life around the authority of God.

Jesus came proclaiming a Kingdom that is not one of our making, but one of God’s direction, a world transformed.

Love your enemy.

Pray for your persecutor.

Heal the sick.

Care for the widow, the orphan, the refugee and foreigner in your midst.

These are not things you can choose to do, if you feel like it, if it strikes you as convenient, or if it meets your interests, expectations or approval.

No, this is matter of duty and honor in service to a God to whom you owe your very existence.

That is what propelled those early disciples out from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth.  They had caught a glimpse of what it is to live under authority.  They recognized that what God had done in Christ Jesus is give his life for them, to set them free from the powers of sin and death, and out of gratitude and love for this God who gives God’s all, they were willing to sacrifice all to follow.

What Jesus had to say reveals to us the marching orders for which he is willing to go to the Cross.  This is a God who chose to come and serve in your midst,

This is a God who became one with you, in flesh, so that God would know the fullness of what it is to be human, what it means to sacrifice, and to give the last full measure himself.

You can lose sight of that, and when you do, faith becomes a struggle, or perhaps eveb lose meaning.

Church, like Memorial Day, can become just about picnics and social gatherings and what you do on your “day off.”

It takes a reminder of the sacrifices made, the call to duty and service, to bring us back to an understanding of what it means to live under authority.

May your Memorial Day weekend be one of remembrance and thanksgiving, for what your God has done for you and called upon you to do and be

“Let’s Dance, You And I” John 16:12-15

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

Truer words were never spoken by Jesus, and he’s got an awful lot of true words.   Heck, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as we were reminded recently, but when it comes to true words, it is perhaps the things that he cannot say to us in a particular moment that hit us the hardest.

True words have a way of doing that, or so I’ve discovered over the years.   There are times that you really can’t say to people everything you know, they just couldn’t bear it at that moment.

Think about a few of those.

This is the season of graduation, and I particularly think of all those young people ready to launch out in the world.  Graduation speeches tend toward the optimistic and the lofty.

“It’s up to our generation to make a difference.  Let’s go out and change this world, class of 2016.”

We hear those words and from our older perspective, we smile.

It seems we just heard those same words spoken in 2006.

The same words were spoken in 1976.

The same words were probably spoken in 1956.

Indeed, the world did and has changed, but not always in the way envisioned and not always at the optimistic hands of a generation that swore they would NEVER make the same mistakes as the previous generation.

There are some things that I would say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

Have your moment of joy and energy and the world bending to your will before the world does what it is so good at doing, breaking wills and bending hopes and dreams.

Or, think about the young couple who announces their engagement.  You smile and are of course excited for them, but you know so much more after your 30+ years of married life.  Its joys, its heartbreaks, how much it will change each of you, what you will face together.   You want to tell them so much, but could they bear it now?

Or the couple who announces they are going to have a child.  The seasoned parent knows what you are in for, but will wisely keep quiet for the moment.  Some things you do have to experience for yourself, better to talk about it after they have walked that floor all night, or sent that daughter off to her first dance.

So it is that Jesus says to his disciples; “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”   And as he says it we begin to wonder, just what it was that Jesus may have had in mind?   What does he have to say, and when will be the right time for them to hear it, to bear it?

Our minds roll over the changes in our lifetime and the changes witnessed by previous generations. We wonder what it was that Jesus would have had to say to those situations?

What would Jesus have had to say to this, or to that?

Indeed, the more we think about it, in most every time of cultural change and re-direction part of the struggle has been to try to discern what Jesus, what God was trying to say to that situation.  It is not so easy to do that while you are caught up in the events as they unfold.

So we read in the book of Acts that Peter receives a revelation of an open sheet filled with things he shouldn’t eat, but is now commanded by the Spirit of God to “take Peter, and eat.”    It becomes a vision that opens the Gospel to the Gentiles, and allows Peter to begin ministering to one Cornelius, a Roman Centurion.

It not like Jesus hadn’t broken down barriers in his own time on earth, just never the dietary laws.   So Peter struggles as only Peter seems capable of doing, almost rejecting a vision from God in preference for tradition.

Or Paul, having a vision of a certain man from Macedonia inviting him to come and speak the Gospel there goes to Macedonia, only to find that it is the women who are open and receptive to him.  They are the ones who become the supporters of his work.

Who would have thought that confusion over Gender identity would pop up in the book of Acts?   Paul can’t tell a man from a woman in a vision?  Or is this how God tells us something Paul couldn’t bear to hear without living into it?

A Eunuch wants to be baptized?  That is unheard of, but Philip is literally “along for the ride” and when a pool of water presents itself, and the Eunuch asks what is to prevent it?  Philip can’t muster any reason at all after going this far.

A Roman jailor and his whole family are converted?   Again, unheard of, but earthquakes and visions of angels have a way of convincing you that all things are possible.

What would Jesus have had to say to all of this?   Did he not already speak to it when he ate with sinners, tax collectors, touched lepers, healed the unclean and the died for the unworthy?

But it’s hard for us to bear just how open and inclusive Jesus could be, particularly when it comes to people with whom we have to deal.

Paul could not speak openly against slavery in his day, it was the law of the land, but he could tread pretty close to the edge of the thin ice with the words in Galatians of “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we all are one in Christ…”

And, he could get pretty close in encouraging one Onesimus to receive his run-away slave back into his house, but now as a brother…

What could not be born, could at least be hinted at, eluded to, and if you start to take this Grace thing seriously, this might be end result.

Old men seeing visions.

Young men dreaming dreams.

On both male and female servants the Spirit is poured out and people beginning to say things, to “prophesy” in ways that could not be born once upon a time but that now are pressed toward and accepted.


Civil Rights…

One by one the things that culture used the Holy Scripture to defend against have fallen as the Spirit interceded and opened up new possibilities.

And for our Methodist brothers and sisters this past week the great opening of the conversation about sexuality, and acceptance of people for how God has fearfully and wonderfully made them.

Oh, there are some things that some among us cannot bear yet, but it’s coming, and it’s coming because of this God who continually comes at us as Trinity.

Yes, it is Holy Trinity Sunday, and I’m not going try to explain the Trinity or comment about it because it defies explanation, but it does not defy description.

This is how Holy Trinity works. This is how God comes at us, again and again.

In the words of Jesus, the Son, who reminds us that there are some things that we simply cannot bear yet… things that he would like to say to us, but he can’t right now because we’re just not ready to hear about it.   We have some growing to do, some learning we have to experience.

But that’s o.k., because God is sending God’s own self as the Spirit of truth, and when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.  The Spirit will push and prod and make you wonder and think about things, and entertain possibilities that once seemed unthinkable.

And, when the Spirit opens up the scary proposition?  When the sheet unfolds, the women come instead of the men, the Black man sits at the lunch counter, the Gay woman breaks the bread and lifts the chalice and says the words of Jesus, …what if it’s just too much for you to bear at this moment?  Well then God the Father’s loving arms are still there to enfold you and hold you and keep space with you.

“Perhaps you cannot bear this yet.  You are no less loved, no less forgiven, no less desired in my eyes, but child we will continue this dance on this, you and I.”   That’s is what Holy Trinity says.

The oldest descriptions of the Holy Trinity are in fact found in the word “Perichoresis”, which means roughly “rotation” or “‘Spin’ around a space.”

It’s a dance, if you will, of God coming to meet us in person, in words, in presence, in vision, at just the right time and in just the right way we need God to meet us at this moment.

This is the promise Jesus makes today, a promise that still leaps across the centuries because it is a fresh promise from a never changing God who walks with us through all the changes in life.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

And, when you can bear them… I will be there!  That’s what God in Holy Trinity promises.

I will be there in the words of Jesus you will remember.

I will be there in the granting of visions and understandings prompted by the Holy Spirit as it works in this world and in your life.

I will be there as the loving parent welcoming you back into my arms when you have wandered too far, or have gotten in over your head, or you just don’t know where else to go or where to turn.

“We’ll dance, you and I!”   That is what God says in the gift of the Trinity.

“I will put new shoes on your feet, and a ring on your finger, and a robe, …the best one!”  All to remind you that you are beloved and wanted and welcome even if you are hopelessly out of step with where the rest of the world or where everyone else seems to be.

We will dance.

We will dance you and I, God says.

I will lead, or I will follow if I must, or fumbled footed we will both trip over the work of the Spirit until we fall into step and sweep and feel the flow of the dance together again.

That’s the work of the Spirit.

That’s the promise of the Father.

These are the words of the Son, “you know the way… I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.”

So it’s Holy Trinity Sunday, and I have no explanation of what it is for you, no neat illustration.  They all only lead to one heresy or another.

Instead I have an image and a promise.

God dances, with God’s own self and with you.

God dances, and invites you to get caught up in the dance as it unfolds, this dance of life.

What you cannot bear now, whatever it is, God will always be there for you in one form or another to help you through.  Of that you can depend.

“So let’s dance, you and I,” says God!

“Not Drunk As You Suppose” Acts 2:1-11

It is the day of Pentecost, and I think it is about time that we fessed up to something that everyone else in the world is willing to point out to us but that we are reluctant to embrace.

This faith thing…. If you’re really into it, you do either have to be drunk or crazy.

Pentecost is not just a Christian festival 50 days after Jesus rises from the tomb.  As Acts reminds us here, it began as a Jewish religious festival.  People are in Jerusalem for something that is already happening, and it is the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the midst of this festival that causes the events to unfold.

The Festival of Weeks or Shavaut combined two things, a harvest festival and the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.

The “Festival of Weeks” marked the arrival of the wheat crop and the bringing of the tithe of the crop to the Temple in Jerusalem.   Like all harvest festivals, the celebration of abundance meant a celebration of abundance!”   You celebrate abundance by imbibing and feasting!  So you can see how the accusation could have been made that the prophesying disciples are “filled with new wine.”

Pretty much everyone is, just not at this hour of the day.

 “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

You can see how the crowd might have confused the actions of the disciples proclaiming aloud in the streets with the kind of drunken reveling that sometimes happens at spirited occasions, when people get up and shout and make speeches.

Are they Drunk?   It’s not that far-fetched an observation!

And the crazy part?  Well the people of Israel have always been considered just a little bit crazy because of those commandments given by God on Mt. Sinai.   The Commandments were a mark of community.   Living in a way that strove to keep the commandments meant that you behaved differently from your neighbors, and whenever that happens there is a general question of one’s sanity.

If you try to keep the commandments as the Pharisees had, (outlined in the 613 laws,) they were a bit crazy making!   The explication that was supposed to bring clarity about keeping the commandment, more often than not brought a lot of hair splitting!

Take Sabbath laws for example.   Could you walk to visit someone on the Sabbath, or was that considered work?  According to Pharisees to make keeping the commandment clear, there were limits on how far a person could walk.   But what if it were just a few steps over the limit?   What about that?   Did you not take the journey, or did you figure out some way around it, maybe extra long strides?

What if your animal fell in a ditch or well, did you have to leave it in there until after the Sabbath or could you help it out?

Could you heal on the Sabbath?  Forgive on the Sabbath?  What about plucking a few heads of grain as you walked by the field?  Was that work?   Etc. etc.   The “crazy making” rules that Jesus bumped up against over and over again.

If not that, then simply keeping the marks of community made you seem oddly out of step with the rest of what was a Roman saturated culture and world.

Tithing on your harvest to the Temple?  That’s just crazy.  Who does that?  How will you have enough for yourself if you give it away like that?

Not charging interest on loans made to people?  Those are all crazy things, who does that?

Look at all the crazy things that Jesus decided to do after the Spirit descended upon him in baptism.

He is driven out to the wilderness, where he experiences prayer, temptation, fasting, maybe hallucinations, but in the end a better understanding of who he is and what God is calling him to do.

He leaves behind his family.

He starts to gather a core group around him to teach and minister.

He commissions those whom he teaches to go out and heal, and trusts them to do it!

He tells them it is their responsibility to feed the multitudes, and challenges them to do it as he prays and breaks the bread.

He teaches in enigmatic parables and often answers searching questions with deeper questions.

His own family come out on more than one occasion to try to bring him back home, make him be quiet, not pick fights or do verbal sparring with the religious leaders of the day.

When you think back on Jesus’ actions, they classify as sounding more than a little bit crazy, and then he invites us to do them with him.

Add to that, Jesus starts to talk about this “Kingdom of God” that is coming, and is already here he insists.  He does this all this talking about a new Kingdom in the midst of living under Roman occupation.

That is all just crazy talk!  That will get you crucified!

So you can see how when the Disciples begin to speak of Jesus on Pentecost, all around are wondering about their sanity.

Didn’t you guys just see what happened to him?

Yes, I think it’s time that we fessed up.  It does appear that if you are really going to get into this faith thing, this following Jesus thing, you are at least going to be perceived as either drunk or crazy by the world!

More to the point, you really are going to have to be both of those things.

You will have to be drunk on this thing called the Holy Spirit.   Despite Peter’s impassioned speech here, there is a kind of drunkenness to be claimed, it’s just not due to wine as some suppose!

The disciples have been seized by quite another spirit that puts them under the influence.

They are drunk with a Spirit that gives them words to speak.

They are inebriated, quite out of their own minds and all the inhibitors are off as they begin to talk about this Jesus who was crucified, dead and was buried, and is now is raised to new life and is bringing in the promised Kingdom.

They find themselves saying things out loud in the public square on Pentecost that they wouldn’t have even dared to whisper to each other behind locked doors 50 days ago.

There is form of drunkenness here that we need to claim.

It is the drunk on the Spirit witness that Peter points to as he does interpretation of events and scripture.  This is what the Prophet Joel was talking about, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh…”

Yes, if you’re going to do this faith thing, going to follow Jesus, you do have to be a bit drunk and crazy!

You have to let go of your inhibitions and let the Holy Spirit take you into places and make you do things that a sane and sober person wouldn’t otherwise consider.

That’s what our confirmands are in for, and really it’s what we need to model for them.

We need to show them drunk and crazy behavior.

We need to show them that the gift of the Holy Spirit takes hold of you and makes you smile with giddy abandon at the thought that God has forgiven you and will never leave you.

We need to show them that gift of Baptism is about losing one’s self in the unconditional love of God, so much so that you don’t care what anyone else thinks or says about you, you are loved.

We need to let them see that the gift of the Holy Spirit at times grabs us and makes us do things that if we were cautious, sober and thinking the way this world thinks we would not be doing.  But, we’re doing it, because we are punch drunk on the love of God in Christ Jesus and the power of the Spirit!

We need to model for our confirmands, and for this world in general, some absolutely crazy behavior!

We need to be generous with our giving so that they will see that the more one gives, the more God has a way of filling the gap.

We need to show them how to radically trust, radically love, receive God’s radical grace, because the predominant message they will get from Empire (this world) is one of fear.

Fear for your life, don’t trust anyone, that is what will keep you safe!   Put better locks on your doors, buy a gun, trust no one.

Fear for your possessions, make as much as you can because no one is going to look out for you if you don’t look out for yourself.   Lock things up, hoard things, prepare for a bleak future because God has abandoned this world.

That is the message Empire sends, from the TSA line to the nightly news, so we owe it to our kids to be crazy and drunk.

Crazy in our trust that God has not abandoned this world.

Drunk on the Spirit that Jesus offers in the meal, and in the openness to all.

Crazy in our understanding that walls to do make us safe.   Caring for the neighbor is how care is spread.  The Samaritan, the Woman at the Well, the Syro-Phoenecian woman, the Geresene Demoniac, the Pharisees, the thief at his left and at his right, the children who come for blessing, the leper, the woman with the blood flow, the crowds who are like sheep with out a shepherd – all of these Jesus opened himself to and commanded those who followed him to have to the same attitude.   Wherever you go say “Peace to you” and if peace is accepted, share whatever is offered.

This is the consistent message of Jesus.

Open the door.

Unbar the gate.

Let go of your fear.

Invite in the stranger, the foreigner, the “other” and make of them an ally.  Treat them as friend and learn from them so that you learn to trust and lean on one another instead of shutting out and making enemies.

That is crazy talk in this world where Empire drum beats the message of fear, threat levels, and gun sales.

“Greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for a friend.”

“Love your enemy and pray for your persecutor.”

That’s all drunk and crazy talk, is it not?

But it is what Jesus did, and what he modelled all the way to the Cross and beyond.

So, if you are going to do this faith thing you will have to be drunk with the Spirit and this kind of crazy!

Time we fess up to that.

Time we live up to that.

“Someday…..” Acts 1:1-11

Sometimes it takes a while for the meaning behind a bible story to really grab you and make sense.

For a long time, I must confess, the ascension story simply eluded me.  Jesus’ farewell, being taken up from the Disciple’s presence on a cloud into heaven, it never really made much sense to me.   It was always a strange, other worldly event.  It was a story that perhaps made sense back in an age when heaven was thought of as physical place just beyond the blue celestial orb of the sky.

But, it was not a story that made a lot of sense in an age where we had slipped the surly bonds of gravity and ventured out into space.  To our sensibilities; Jesus’ ascension bodily into the heavens just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It wasn’t until I became a parent that I began to understand the true nature of the Ascension story.  It is not so much about physics or the visuals of being taken up out of sight.

My understanding came from a curious place.  It started with a phrase that I found myself saying with increasing frequency as my children grew older.  It was probably a phrase that I had picked up from my own parents.  The phrase was, “Someday you’ll have to do this on your own.”

Every parent will recognize that phrase, or something like it.  It is the phrase that embodies both your hopes, often your dreams, and sometimes your fondest expectations!

They come to you, those little ones, as helpless lumps of flesh dependent upon you for every need in life, — food, clothing, shelter, hygiene.  And slowly, as time progresses, one by one the responsibility for meeting and addressing those needs must be transferred to them.

It starts with the ability to feed themselves, and then it goes on to the area hygiene.  We cheer at the advent of potty training, when we no longer have to clean their bottoms or change gooey pants. They learn to dress themselves, to bathe themselves, to take on little chores that contribute to the benefit and welfare of the whole household, and every little milestone is prefaced with that phrase, “Someday you will have to do this for yourself…”

We sometimes say that phrase with pride and excitement. “Someday you’ll be able to tie your own shoes!”

Sometimes the phrase is spoken with a sense of exasperation.  Someday you’ll have to clean up your own messes, so you better get used to doing it now!”

Each time it is flung out with a fervent hope that what is taking place here is preparation for life.  We prepare our children for the day when we will not be there to take care of them, the they when they take the initiative to solve their own problems and to make their own decisions wisely.

Partly we do this because we’d like to have our own life back again, thank you!

But we also recognize that our time on this planet is finite, and that a new generation must take up the torch.  We will not physically be there to walk them through every situation, and so they must be ready to step out on their own, and to take over the task of living that they have been instructed in all along.

When you strip away all the other-worldly stuff from the ascension story, what you have is a torch passing.  It is Jesus finally and completely letting go of the ministry he started, modeled, taught, lived and for which he died and was risen.   It is the story of Jesus telling the disciples, telling us, “now you have to do this on your own.”

The shift of responsibility is there, the parental hope and dreams are there, but we almost miss it by looking at all the wrong details of the story.  Instead of jumping to the cloud, look at what happens before Jesus leaves the ground.

They are all gathered together, Jesus and his disciples, on a hillside outside of Jerusalem.    Those disciples are looking to Jesus for guidance and direction, but what they are really looking for is for him to do something for them.

“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

All eyes are focused on what Jesus will do next.  Now that he has died, and been raised, what is his next move?  What will the resurrected one do?

The answer Jesus gives to their question is one that squarely shifts responsibility for action.  “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons….”   What God does next, what I do next, is not your concern.   What is your concern is what YOU need to do next.

“You will receive power….” Jesus says.

“You will be my witnesses….” Jesus says.

“In Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Jesus says.

It’s not going to be like old times, where you disciples tagged along behind Jesus, sometimes complaining, sometimes bewildered, like children in tow of their parent.   If the Gospel is going to reach to the ends of the earth, then the band of remaining disciples will have split and multiply.

If they are to witness to all those Jesus talks about, then they are going to have to go places and travel lighter and farther that they ever did as a band moving with Jesus in the lead, wandering the Galilean countryside.   There are grand visions and dreams being imparted here in Jesus’ farewell, a torch is being passed, a promise is given.

“You will receive power….”  You can do this!  And, in order for this to be done, I’m going to have to leave you, otherwise you will be forever expecting ME to do it all for you.

I didn’t understand the Ascension until I became a parent, until I too had to let my children flounder, try things on their own, and leave them to the experience and training that as parents we had provided them.

I knew they were perfectly capable of taking it on themselves, this task of living that was set before them.

And, I knew that for them to take it on I would have to step back out of the picture, as my parents had stepped out of the picture for me, encouraging me to do what they knew that I could do as well.

So it is with Jesus.

The cloud, the lifting up, that’s all just the device to make it perfectly clear to us that he is out of the immediate picture of action, and that it is up to us to now take on the task of proclaiming the Kingdom.

He has promised to be with us.

He will be there to support us, where two or three are gathered, there he will be also, but not now as the initiator of the action, but rather the encourager.

His presence now is not unlike the memory that I have of my father, my mother, encouraging me.  A child carries the voice of that parent or guardian who showed them how to live and act.  It comes to you in the night, or in the moment when you are called upon to act.  As life confronts us with predicaments, we hearken back to that which was imparted to us.

What did Dad do?

How did mom do that?

Often our memory is hazy.  Sometimes we forget exactly what they said or exactly what they did, but we still are infused with the values, with the directions, with the sense of what they would have done.

If we are fortunate enough to still have our parents still around, we might look to them, consult them, or we might just engage in that inner dialog that brings their words to mind.   “I can hear my dad saying….”

In either case, there is a sense in which they are not quite gone, but they are also not immediately there, and they will certainly not do it for us anymore, but their actions still empower what we do.

Such is the spirit of the ascension.  Jesus is not going to do the things that he did once upon a time, but that does not mean that they won’t be done.

Now the torch is passed.

Now the time for Jesus to gather, to preach, to heal, and to announce the Kingdom of God coming is over.

But, the time for the ACTS OF THE APOSTLES, the “sent ones” has arrived.

You, brothers and sisters at St. James, are the “sent ones.”

You are the ones who have been baptized, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

You are the ones who have heard of Jesus, who have seen him as a model for life.  You have witnessed the power of his love, and have heard his call upon your own life to follow.

You are the ones who have had the scriptures placed into your hands.

You are the ones who have had the neighbor’s welfare placed within your heart.

Yes, it may all seem hazy from time to time.  Maybe you can’t remember the exact words that Jesus said.  Maybe you haven’t memorized every verse that you’d like to have ready so that you would know exactly what to say to life’s circumstances.  Maybe you wish that you would study more, or be a little more forgiving, or have a deeper spirituality.

But, dear friends in Christ, here’s the thing.  If you wait until you have your whole house of faith in order before you strike out to witness and to serve, you will likely never get around to doing it.

There comes the time when God simply says, “You will have to do this on your own….”

Now is that time.

But realize also, that like most parents, our Father in heaven is not so much interested in you doing things perfectly the first time, or every time, but God is just delighted and pleased to see you stepping out to do what God has always known you were capable of doing!

When you begin to step out in faith, no matter how small or uncertain those steps may be, realize that God is rejoicing, for now God begins to see the hopes and the dreams of that Kingdom promised coming into the world.

It is a Kingdom that does not come because Jesus does it all for us.

Rather, a Kingdom that comes because God has empowered Jesus’ followers to take part in it and to bring it to completion.  A Kingdom so big and vast that the only way it will come is if each and every follower of Jesus takes hold of a piece of it and says, “I can do this –here.”

It is a Kingdom that comes when we step out in faith and indeed take the witness about the love of Jesus to our corner of this world, our piece of the “ends of the earth.”

I did not understand the ascension until I became a parent.  Jesus has promised you the Holy Spirit, and his presence with you as you launch out.

Someday, you’ll have to do this Kingdom proclaiming on your own….and that someday is here.