McFarland

Ascension of Our Lord May 23/24, 2020

Readings

First Reading: Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23

Gospel:Luke 24:44-53

Prayer of the Day:

Almighty God, your only Son was taken into the heavens and in your presence intercedes for us. Receive us and our prayers for all the world, and in the end bring everything into your glory, through Jesus Christ, our Sovereign and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing! – ELW #393

Alleluia!  Sing to Jesus – ELW #392

Blessing and Honor – ELW #854

Crown Him with Many Crowns – ELW #855

Reflection on Luke 24:44-53

by Pastor Kelli Schmit

Today we celebrate and commemorate the Ascension of our Lord.  After he was resurrected, after he chatted with two disciples as they walked toward Emmaus, Jesus gathered his disciples together again, blessed them, and then was carried up into the heavens.

Today we have a story about Jesus’ absence and, I’ll admit, I was dreading this text a little.  I didn’t want to spend my sermon preparation time dwelling on the feeling of Jesus’ absence.  It’s not a fun exercise on a good day, much less when it’s a sense many of us are already experiencing in our day to day.  The feeling of Jesus being distant, if not completely absent, is all too familiar.

We’re living into our new reality, a reality that bears the bruises of the coronavirus’s impact on our social, economic, spiritual, and emotional health.  Social distancing makes us safe but, simultaneously, makes mourning a loved one’s death nearly impossible, at least not in ways that feel reliable or familiar.  Some of us are healthy and fully employed, but we’re choosing to stay away from friends and family with the goal of keeping them well, and the ache of missing them and the uncertainty of when we can safely see them again, this ache is nearly tangible.  This is an incredibly lonely time for everyone.  No one thinks this whole thing is a breeze.  So, I’m sorry, I was not eager to reflect on a text about Jesus’ absence.  We’ve lost so much already.

But…because God continues to sneak grace into my life…there is a word for us today, a message for those of us celebrating Jesus’ ascension while also feeling acutely aware of Jesus’ absence.

Jesus tells the disciples that he is sending what the Father promised, and he affirms that he is going to be with them in a new way.[1]  He is sending the Holy Spirit who will reveal how Jesus’ presence continues with them, just in unforeseen places and through unconventional means.  In the midst of Jesus’ physical absence, the disciples are being equipped to witness to Jesus’ suffering and rising from the dead, and to proclaim repentance and forgiveness with the whole world.  And because of Jesus’ absence, this will all be done in a brand-new way. 

The ascension is not the first time we have seen Jesus get creative.  When facing social expectations, he found a voice to tell stories of God’s love in a new way.  When facing uncleanliness, he showed that it was his holiness that was contagious and extended God’s love.  When facing social taboo, he broke the barriers that would have prevented him from loving the hurting and lonely.  When facing wind, wave, and thunder, he woke from his slumber – because they were inconsequential to him – and he calmed the chaos in order to wrap people in love.  When facing lack and scarcity, he took what he could find and found a new way to feed thousands with food and with love.  When facing down the power and finality of death, he showed that nothing can temper God’s determination to bathe all of creation in love and in life.

Jesus has proven that he is pretty good at being creative in the face of adversity and challenge.  He won’t let anything get in the way of him being present with those whom he loves.  And now that he’s ascending to the Father, Jesus is presenting his disciples with the task of witnessing to this love in a brand-new way.  He may be leaving, but he’s not leaving them empty handed.  He is sending what the Father promised: the Holy Spirit.

Like the disciples, we are facing a reality that feels like Jesus is absent.  Pastor Tim and I often acknowledge that Jesus is in our building – our beautiful and comfortable and lovely and familiar building – but we preach that Jesus isn’t contained within or limited to our building.  While I do enjoy sleeping later on Sunday mornings, and my commute is a whole lot shorter, I am aching for the day when it will be safe for us to worship together again.

But just because the building is closed does not mean that we, the Church, are closed.  The work of the Church has not paused because Jesus’ creativity and movement in the world does not pause.  Some days are hard – yes.  Some days we need to rest and lick our wounds, and that is more than okay.  But if we’re up to it, there is still plenty of God’s love to share in the world.  So how are we going to both acknowledge the pain and struggle and loss in our world, while also celebrating God’s unyielding presence with us?  How is Jesus inspiring our creativity to participate in the Easter promise in a new way?

There is a joke amongst clergy of my generation: “Seminary didn’t prepare me for this.”  It is said in jest because nothing can prepare one for the delightfully hilarious or the absolutely gut-wrenching moments we get to experience in ministry.  No class can fully prepare you to bury someone’s child or wear a lobster hat in the Christmas program. 

Back in March, when things started shutting down and churches were figuring out how to switch online and thinking about how to be with people, without actually being with people, this joke “Seminary didn’t prepare me for this” circled around social media.  And I agree, I did not attend a class called “Creating a Pandemic Protocol.”  But, to quote one of my former teaching assistants, who is now a full-fledged professor, he wrote on Facebook: “Seminary actually did prepare you for this.”[2]

We may not have a pandemic protocol at MLC and I’m still not comfortable preaching into my computer, but I have to agree.  Seminary *hopefully* prepared us to be theologically sound, biblically informed, kind, self-aware, and to seek justice, no matter the situation.  How we do just that gets modified according to the context.  Seminary prepared us for this because seminary taught us how to seek out God’s movement, love, and life in the world.

I think this applies not only to pastors, but to churches as well.  We don’t have a clear idea of what the future will be, how it will look, or what new safety measures may be put in place.  We might not be teaching Vacation Bible School or sitting in our pew or greeting people at Shared Table as soon as we would like, but we are still the church.  God is still calling us to care for one another, with phone calls and cards at this time, instead of handshakes or hugs.  God is still calling us to care for the vulnerable; we’ve just swapped home visits with making face masks.  God is still calling us to dive into God’s Word and into mutual relationships, this time around a computer screen rather than around a church table.  God is still calling us to do the administrative work of the Church, but our meetings are in Zoom rather than Room 210 or 113.  God is still calling us to pray and to participate in worship, of which I think you’re all doing a marvelous job.  Yes, the Holy Spirit prepared us for this.  Well, maybe not this exactly, but for creatively thinking about how best to safely proclaim God’s message of love and care, for creatively thinking about how we can be witnesses in this time and in this place.

I started off this sermon not wanting to think too long about Jesus being absent and leaving us all alone, but we’re not.  Jesus has sent the Spirit, which the Father promised.  We stand with the disciples and watch Jesus ascend to the heavens, we watch Jesus leave, but he is not leaving us empty handed.  On second thought, our hands are rather full, actually.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Matt Skinner from: Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, Joy J. Moore, and Matt Skinner, “Sermon Brainwave: #725 – Ascension of our Lord,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, online podcast, https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1246 (accessed May 18, 2020).
[2] Robert Saler’s Facebook page.  Posted on April 20, 2020.  Accessed May 22, 2020. https://www.facebook.com/rsalertimeline/posts/10222643055889493.

Let Us Pray

God of life, thank you for never leaving us or leaving us empty handed.  Surround us with reminders of your presence; help us to recognize where you’re sneaking grace into our lives.  Grant us courage and strength to continue sharing your love, and give us comfort and peace on the days when the world feels too heavy.  Inspire us with your divine creativity, and guide our actions so they may be reflections of your compassion and commitment to the creation you so love.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.