“Someday You’ll Have To Do This…” Acts 1:6-14, Luke 24:44-53.

For a long time, (I must confess,) the ascension story simply eluded me.  Jesus’ farewell, his being taken up into the heavens from the disciples’ presence on a cloud, the farewell, — it never really made much sense to me.  

It was always a strange, “other worldly” kind of event. 

It was a story that perhaps made sense back in an age when heaven was thought of as some physical place just beyond the blue celestial orb of the sky, but not a story that made a lot of sense in an age where we had slipped the surly bonds and ventured out into space. 

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 a story about the physics and the visuals of being taken up out of sight.

It has more to do with the transfer of power, responsibility, and authority.

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 for yourself.”

Every parent will recognize that phrase, or something like it. 

It is the phrase that embodies both your hopes and dreams, and also your fondest expectations!

The little ones come to you as helpless lumps of flesh dependent upon you for every need in life, — food, clothing, shelter, and hygiene. 

Slowly over time, one by one those responsibilities for meeting and addressing needs is transferred over to them.

It starts with the ability to feed themselves.  We go from shoveling gruel into their mouths to them taking the spoon themselves and eventually walking into the kitchen to see them rummaging or preparing something on their own.

We go from dressing, washing, and dealing with gooey pants to them taking on those abilities themselves. They learn to use the bathroom, dress themselves, bathe themselves, to take on little chores that contribute to the benefit and welfare of the whole household.

 Every little milestone is prefaced with that phrase, “Someday you will have to do this for yourself…”

Each time the phrase is flung out, it is done so with a fervent hope and dream 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 their every need.

We prepare them to take the initiative, to solve their own problems, and to make their own decisions.

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

We also do it because there is something about watching the next generation become that is frankly hope inducing.

When you strip away all the other-worldly stuff away from the ascension, what you have in this story 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 raised again.

The ascension is the story of Jesus telling the disciples, telling us, “now you have to – and you can– do this for yourself!”

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.

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

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

All eyes are focused on what Jesus will do next. 

Now that Jesus has died, been raised, what is his next move Lord?  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, that is not your concern.  

What is your concern is what will come next for YOU!

“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 is not going to be like old times, where the 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 this band of 12 is going to have split and multiply. 

If we are to witness to the world, then we’re going to have to go places and travel lighter and farther that we ever did as a band of 13, with Jesus in the lead.

There are grand visions and dreams being imparted here in Jesus’ farewell.

A torch is being passed.

A promise is being given. 

“You will receive power….” 

You can do this!  And, in order for this to be done, Jesus is going to have to leave the scene, otherwise they will be forever expecting him to do it all!  

I didn’t understand the Ascension until I became a parent.

I didn’t understand it until I too had to let my children flounder a bit and try things on their own, — leave them to their own experience and training, what they had learned through the years of watching and following me.

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

I also 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!   What Jesus had come to proclaim, the Kingdom and all of its promises, is now up to his followers, — up to us to take on. 

Jesus has promised to be with us still!   He will be there to support us, where two or three are gathered.

But Jesus will not to be the initiator of the action any longer. 

Rather, the Holy Spirit will be the encourager. 

Jesus’ presence is not unlike the memory that the child carries of their parent, guardian, mentor or teacher who showed them how to live and act and how to do things.  

As life confronts with predicaments, we hearken back to what has been imparted to us. 

Often our memory is hazy, not as complete as we would like it to be.

Sometimes we forget exactly what was said or exactly what was done. 

There is a sense in which those who taught us are not quite gone, but they are also not immediately there, and they will certainly not do it for us anymore!

Still, when we undertake these actions our memory of them, (their spirit, if you will) empowers what we do.

Such is the spirit of the ascension! 

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 passed to another generation. 

Now is the time for the ACTS OF THE APOSTLES, the time of the “sent ones” who watched and learned from him.   

You, brothers and sisters are the “sent ones” now.

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

You are the ones who have learned from Jesus and 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.

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, what exactly you are supposed to do may seem hazy from time to time. 

Maybe you can’t remember the exact words that Jesus said to this kind of moment. 

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 have studied more, or been a little more forgiving, or had a deeper sense of spirituality, had a little more time with the teachers, and wish that the pathway was marked out a little more clearly.

But, dear friends in Christ, here’s the thing. 

If you wait until you have your whole house 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 for yourself..” And now is that time!

But realize also, that our God is not so much interested in you doing things perfectly the first time, or every time.

 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 first steps may be,) realize that God is rejoicing, applauding for you — for now God begins to see the hopes and the dreams of that Kingdom promised coming into this world through you.  

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

Rather, it is a Kingdom that comes because God has empowered us take part in it and to bring it to completion. 

It is a Kingdom so big and vast that the only way it will ever 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, to our piece of the “ends of the earth.”   

I did not understand the ascension until I became a parent.

Jesus has shown you what you must do with his very life and teaching.

Jesus has promised you the Holy Spirit, and his presence as you launch out. Someday, you’ll have to do this Kingdom proclaiming stuff for yourself….and that someday is today.  

“Chosen” John 15:9-17

We feel increasingly like a “Throw Away Society.”

          There used to be small appliance repair shops where you would take your mixer, your toaster, your tools to be reconditioned or repaired.

          You don’t find those kinds of shops much anymore. 

          I remember the annual trip my father would make to the blacksmith’s shop.  He would carry in a heavy box of steel cultivator shovels, worn rounded and smooth from last year’s use.   The Blacksmith would look them over, then proceed to weld a new edge to the front, grind it sharp, and coat it with a hardening material to make them ready for another year of dragging through the earth.

Cultivator shovel after about 1000 acres of use. : Wellworn

          No one even cultivates anymore in that fashion.   We have chemicals to control weeds now, so I would guess that for number of you out there even the word “cultivator” made you scratch your head. 

“What exactly is that?”   You could not picture it as I can.

          Is your computer outdated or acting up?   There are still a few places that will work  on such machines but by and large we just chuck the old computer and get a new one.  Technology changes so fast that everything in that older machine is obsolete now anyway.  

          Even wrist watches.  Remember when the number of jewels in a watch movement was a source of pride and accuracy?   Remember passing down the family watch as an heirloom of honor?   

Now, we hardly buy batteries for them if they run down.  Just toss the whole watch out and get a new one.   

Or more to the point, no one ever wears just a watch anymore.  It’s a fitbit, or a Google or Apple watch, capable of multiple functions.  A mini-computer on your wrist subject to all the obsolescence noted above.

          Our throw-away society puts us in a kind of crisis of worth.  What is really worth keeping anymore?

That is what is most troubling.

          We even find that trickling into our understanding of people.   We value them differently, (as we always have!)   Whether that is the 3/5ths compromise in reference to slaves and blacks, or the value placed on particular labor whenever we talk about the minimum wage.  

          Some people just aren’t “worth” as much, we are told and some are valued as “worth” every penny of their six, seven and eight figure salaries with stock options.  

          The coach who never puts his body in harms way is valued far above the college or professional player who throws their body into the fray, day after day.   The coach will increase in value with years of experience, (so long as he is winning) while the player becomes a liability on the program when the body starts to fail.

          We value people like that all the time, and even in the realm of people determine there is a time to “throw them out.”  

When you live in a society that is enamored with the new and improved, you soon figure out that this kind of mentality can also apply to you.

You are getting older, you know.

          You’re not as fast, or as sleek, or as desirable as the “new” models coming out!   

          There is a very real temptation to look around and begin to believe that you are of declining worth in this world.

          It is at such times that it is good to hear Jesus speak the words of the Gospel to his disciples, to us and to you and me.   

It’s good to hear Jesus say, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you:  abide in my love.

Abide – stay there in the love of Jesus that comes from God the Father. 

Such love is changeless, boundless and does not diminish with time or age!  

The Love of God is not something that sizes you up all the time or tires of you when you start to turn a little grey or run a little slower or get a little thicker around the middle.   

“Abide in my love….”  Jesus says. 

Rest there.

Live there.

Remain there. 

Such word from Jesus are a very good thing to hear when you’re feeling a little past your expiration date, or when you are struggling with your own sense of personal or professional worth.  

Jesus loves you and wants you with him!  

Jesus wants to give this kind of love to you.  It is a love that is changeless and boundless and not dependent upon you or what you do at all.  

In a world that is always looking for the next wiz-bang gadget or the new thing, it is awfully good to hear that there is a love in which one can abide and depend upon. 

The love that Jesus speaks of and promises isn’t new, and it’s not fickle.  It does not depend upon your performance or your ability to keep up or hold on to it. 

Such love is simply there for you, offered to you as a gift. 

It is there for you to abide in, to remain in, and enjoy for as long as you live.

That in and of itself would be good news, but that’s only half of the promise in this Gospel. 

The Gospel also tells us that not only does Jesus love us, but that we are “Chosen and Appointed” by him.  

As Disciples we are given a place of value and responsibility.  

We are a treasure in Jesus’ eyes.

We are chosen, you and me, by God in Christ Jesus. 

We are appointed by God with the mission of bearing God’s creative and redeeming love to all the world.  

Here is a word spoken to those who feel worthless, expired or run down.   A word for those who struggle with all those questions raised by a “throw away” society. 

Questions like:  

“What am I good for?”  

“What am I here for?”  

“What should I do with the rest of my life?” 

“Where should I go from here?”   

Those are the questions that so often burn in our thoughts.  They gnaw at us in a society that easily discards and snap at our heels like pursuing hounds. 

When you feel like an out-of-date computer, a no longer desired toy, a passed over garage sale item — what is it that can restore worth and value to you?

          The words of Jesus can restore. 

“You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “I chose you!”   And I appointed you to go, to bear fruit.  

You are not worthless in the eyes of God.   

You are the one whom God chooses, out of all the ones to choose in this world! Throughout all of time and space and history, from the beginning and all those who came before you and all who will come after you, YOU are still the one chosen by God!

You are the one for this time, the one that God chooses and appoints to go and bear fruit in Christ’s name.  

You are the one that the Father has sent his Son to die for, that you might learn how to live and how to love your neighbor.

You are the one for this time, and for this place, and for this particular moment to speak to those whom you will meet about Jesus, and tell them of God’s love for them. 

There isn’t any other, there is no substitute for you!

No one else has your unique set of gifts, skills, and abilities.

No one else has your particular circle of connections and friends, acquaintances and influences.

I don’t think we can ever hear that enough, be reminded of that enough.  

It’s so easy to lose sight of that part of the Gospel promise. 

It is easy to just “abide” in Jesus’ love without realizing that such love is there to empower and embolden us for this moment in which we live.  

It’s so easy in this throw-away society to begin to believe what we see and hear from this world, that somehow we just don’t have it anymore, and that God isn’t really interested in you or me much.

I’m too young, or too old for God to have any use for me.

I’m too skinny, or too fat, too insecure, or too insincere about my faith.  

I’m too shy or too boisterous, too friendly or too stand-offish, too easily hurt, or too thick skinned.

I’m too intense, or too easily distracted.

Surely God doesn’t really want me, expect me to be a part of God’s work in this world, does God? 

Surely there is someone out there more qualified, more ready, someone who has more time, more faith, more commitment, or more talent – a better, newer model?   

We convince ourselves of this because we have gotten so used to just throwing things away that we assume God must just do the same.

So it is that Jesus is sent to remind us that God’s ways are not this world’s ways, and that God’s love is not the “infatuated with the new” kind of love.

It is “abiding” love.

You are the one God chooses to love!

You are the one God appoints with gifts and abilities and talents. 

But most of all, what God appoints you with is God’s own love.   Because you see, people who are loved and of value in this way can give love.  

That is what this is all about.  

When you love, you bear fruit for Jesus.

Such love might take on many forms, many tasks.  But there is no act of love that is more valuable than any another in God’s eyes.   The simple acts of love found in smiling at a stranger or caring for a child is just as great as laying down of your life for others because it is all of one piece for God.

This is not a throw-away world for God. 

Abiding in Jesus’ love for us, feeling the worth and value he gives to us, the treasure we are to him, gifts us with the ability to take up our responsibility to love one another. 

You are no “throw away” in God’s eyes.  No one is!  

“When Life Disappoints” John 15:1-8

In his little book “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten” Robert Fulghum asks a searching question.   

Why is it that if you walk into a room full of kindergartners and ask them if they can do something, their little hands will spring up immediately and without hesitation want to launch wholeheartedly into whatever you ask them to try?   

“Can anyone here draw a picture?”  Boom!   Every hand goes up and they busy themselves with crayon and paper.   

          Ask that same question in a classroom of Jr. High, High School, or college age students, or adults –  and  you will get a very different response.    There will be hesitation or rebellion, excuses or apathy. 

“I never could draw very well.”   

“What kind of picture do you want?”  

“Are we going to get credit for this?”

          What happens, Fulghum muses, between Kindergarten when “Yes” was the only word on our lips and those later years when self-doubt, deprecation, and apathy come to play?  

What happened to make it go away was likely disappointment.

          Life disappoints us, that is the truth. 

Life affirms that there are limitations.  

Life teaches us that for every “Yes” we voice, there is often a force out there that seems to want to scream “No” back into our faces.

          For every enthusiastic picture by a kindergartner, there is a critic.  

The child knows that the sky can be green before the storm, and the lake can be red, afire with the glow of the reflected morning sunrise, and that oranges can be yellow or green or orange depending upon how ripe they are.   

          But the critic will look at their picture and will tell the child that the sky isn’t really green and that water should be blue and that the reason it’s called an orange is because it is orange, not some other color.

          That critic, (well-meaning though he or she may be) has just taught the child the lesson of life of disappointment.   

No matter how enthusiastic you may be about the endeavor, others will not always share your vision, or your view, or your perspective.  

          We are taught in such moments not to look at the world with wide-eyed wonder, but to conform.  

Life disappoints us, and when life disappoints, we feel cut off. 

For some people, the disappointments of life, (the cutting off,) becomes the shaping event in and of itself.  

“I could have been,” they will say,  “but…..” 

“I should have gone, but….”  

“I never had the chance, so….”

          For the rest of their lives they seem to rehearse the cutting event, — the loss, the grief, or the disappointment.   Everything else fades from view.

          But this Gospel lesson shows us a different response to disappointments and cut offs.  

Jesus encourages us to think of such things as pruning. 

What pruning does is promote new growth.  

What pruning does is force a plant to bear fruit.

          Life disappoints, that is true.  

It disappoints even Jesus, God’s own Son.  

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.   He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”

          Take a look at that verse again, verse 2, every branch in me   Jesus says.  

          So then, who feels the cut?   Who feels the pinch of the snips of disappointment in this life, this world?   

It’s not just you and me, it’s also Jesus!   

If God’s own Son is not spared the pinch of disappointment, who are we to think we should be immune from it?     

          Did life ever disappoint Jesus?    You might ask.

Think of that story when Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth after traveling throughout Judea healing and teaching and proclaiming the Kingdom.  

What happens when the hometown boy who has done good shows up?   Is he received with accolades?  

No, the Gospels tell us. 

Instead, he is met with skepticism.  “Is this not Joseph’s son?”  

He could do nothing in his hometown except heal a few people, we are told, and by the end of the story his own townsfolk are ready to throw him over a cliff. 

Do you think that might have been disappointing?

          How about being betrayed by a kiss by one of your inner circle of followers?   Do you think that might have been disappointing?

          What about being denied by Peter, three times, in your hour of greatest need, and knowing he was going to do it all along.  Do you think that would have been disappointing?

          Life disappoints.   

Life delivers these “cut off” experiences, sometimes when we least expect them.    

          But Jesus encourages us not to focus on the cut, but on what happens afterwards.   

He uses this image of vine and branches, taken from the vineyard.   When grape vines are cut, it forces a new branch to develop.   It sprouts off in a new direction, with new possibilities.  

A good vine dresser knows just what to lop off the  vine to push that grape vine into production, to make it grow along the guide support wire, to make it bear fruit.   

          Jesus says that’s what God is, a good vine dresser. 

What if instead of focusing on our wounds and our disappointments, we began to search for where this wound is pushing you to grow?    

What if you began to search for what fruit this pruning might be meant to produce?

          How do you do that?    It is a matter of perspective.    

Look again at what Jesus says in verse 3.  “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.”   

That word “cleansed” shares the same root as “pruned” used above in verse 2 — καθαιρω.  

You have already been “pruned” Jesus says.  

          Now, here comes the matter of perspective,  

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

          I think we always hear that first as a command.  “Abide in me” as if a cut off branch had the power to come up and reconnect itself to the vine.   

          That’s not what Jesus is saying.   

          Jesus is saying that the pruning has already taken place and guess what, — you are still connected to him!   

          The cuts you have felt have been perhaps important things lopped off from you, but you have not been removed from the love of God in Christ Jesus. 

          Nothing, Paul says, can make that happen.   

          You are still connected to that vine!  Still connected to Jesus and through Jesus to God.       You have the opportunity, the potential, the power to draw strength and nutrient and nurture from the source of all things, from God in Christ Jesus.   

          This is a matter of perspective you see.  

When life disappoints, when the cuts come, where do you see yourself?  

Do you imagine yourself as a branch lying on the ground?   Well, the destiny for the branch is the fire. 

          Or do you understand that where you are residing, where God has promised that you are, is still connected to him, despite the cut?

           It does not give God glory you see, to go around cutting people off.   

What gives God glory?  

“My Father is glorified by this,” Jesus says, “that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

          It is a matter of perspective, as Robert Fulgham tries to help us see. 

In Kindergarten we all had the power to say “yes” because we had not yet felt the cuts.

Through story, Fulgham in his little book tries to show us that disappointments, cuts, can be overcome, we can get back to saying “yes” to life!

          More powerful even than Fulgham’s stories however, is “The Story,” the Gospel.  

Jesus a man accustomed to grief, a man who has known disappointment, but who also knows God, says to us “abide in me.”     

He says to us, “I Am the vine, you are the branches.  You have already been pruned.   My father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

          That’s where you are, you are connected to the savior.   And it is your destiny to bear much fruit! 

That is what gives glory to God!   

The question now becomes can you re-imagine yourself as there?   

Will you dare to believe like a kindergartner that nothing is impossible for you because nothing is impossible for God, and that is where YOU are connected?   

Will you imagine yourself so connected to Christ and his Church that no matter how often and how much life cuts, all you keep doing it sprouting new shoots?  Coming back again stronger and better and more fruitful?           When life disappoints, (and it will,) can you dare to imagine that what is more powerful than disappointment is God’s promise that you are destined to bear much fruit!