Friday, May 30, 2014

Ascension Day 2014

Ascension Day Sermon
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
Thursday, May 29, 2014
The Rev. Jeanne Finan


We have this beautiful gossamer banner
created by artist Judith McManus
that appeared in the window for Easter.
The banner proclaims: He is risen.

One early weekday morning
I was sitting here in the nave--
thinking, pondering, praying--
and I found myself staring at this banner.

As I looked at it
I began to imagine....
to imagine
that if I were technolgically saavy,
wouldn’t it be awesome
for the Ascension
 to have this banner move.

He is risen would go up up up
and float away and move through the windows
and rise up into the clouds.
Above and over the penthouse floor of the Courtyard Marriott--
up up up
and over Lake Champlain
and we would all stand and rush to the window
and see the banner floating away until it was nothing but a tiny speck
and then we would see,
written in the sky--
NOT Surrender Dorothy--
 but instead--
we would see--
...while he was blessing them, he...was carried up into heaven.

While he was blessing them, he...was carried up into heaven.
Ascension Day.

Only in my imagination am I technologically saavy.
But isn’t it wonderful to imagine,
that we, like the apostles on this day,
receive this blessing, too,
as Jesus is carried up into heaven.

While he was blessing them, he...was carried up into heaven.

We really cannot stop ourselves from looking UP
on Ascension Day.
it says it right there in scripture--
he was carried UP into heaven.

But as twenty-first century people
we have a hard time visualizing and understanding
and believing in a literal Ascension.

It was easier in the first century
because the Hebrew people had always placed God
up above the dome of the heavens.
After all, the world was flat,
Greek mythology of the day always placed the gods
high up on a mountain top,
ruling over the earth.

These were the cultural influences of the time of Jesus,
so the ascension of Jesus into the heavens
would have made sense in that time.

For us, however,
flying up into the sky
brings images of Superman soaring off into space
or being beamed up by Scotty into the Starship Enterprise.
Those are our cultural images today
of someone being lifted into the clouds.

I think a better image for the Ascension
comes from Pope Francis.
He describes the Ascension
as if Jesus has climbed to the top of  a high mountain,
but before he left,
he tied a rope to our waist that connects to the rope around his own waist.
We are connected.
We are never without help,
never without hope.

We make promises in our Baptismal Covenant,
and say,
I will, with God’s help.
God’s help is that rope.
That unbreakable rope
links us to the holy and to hope.

The Ascension really is about hope.

Remember how distraught the disciples were
after the crucifixion?
They felt, just like we do after an unspeakable tragedy,
heartbroken, smothered by despair.
Because this was certainly not how they imagined it all ending.
And it felt like the end.

But then remember,
Jesus comes back.
And the stories in the Bible have him meeting the disciples
on the Emmaus Road and in the upper room
and even cooking fish,
inviting his friends to come and have supper.
And the disciples know
that it is not over.
The crucifixion, which is the overpowering of good by evil,
is not the end of the story.

The Ascension is not about standing around,
looking up,
longing after what once was.
The Ascension is really about looking AROUND.
Paying attention to what is happening in the world
and to where the Gospel,
in both word and action,
is so desperately needed.

The Ascension is about hope.
The disciples finally get it,
they understand.
God is always with us,
but we are the ones here on earth.
We are the hands and the feet and the eyes and the ears
and the voices that are here.
The Ascension calls us to stop looking up now,
and start looking around.

We do what we do as this Cathedral community
because we have hope.
We have big hopes and we have small hopes
but together we believe that God has put us here in this world,
in this community,
to make a difference--
in the lives of others
and in our own lives.

We can help goodness overcome evil.
We can live our lives to show
that love is always stronger than hate.
And when we get discouraged we just tug on the rope
wrapped around our waist,
the rope that connects us to the top of the mountain.
I will, with God’s help.

Teresa of Avila, a 16th century mystic, prayed:

You have no body on earth but ours.
No hands but ours.
No feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which your compassion
must look out on the world.
Ours are the feet by which you may still go about doing good.
Ours are the hands with which you bless people now.
Bless our minds and our bodies
that we may be a blessing to others.

Dear friends in Christ,
there is nothing wrong with looking up.
But we are here on earth for the time being
and we also need to pay attention
to where the world needs us right now,
here on earth.

We need to hold on to the rope tied around our waist,
and open our eyes to what is all around us.

Just look around.
Just look around.


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