Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ascension Day Sermon

Note: I'm at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina for the Presbyterian Communicators Network Regional Conference. I was tapped to be the worship leader for the event. Wow, they trusted a Disciple to do their worship...

Anyway, it's been a good time. Here was the sermon I gave for the afternoon worship.

Watch Me Pull A Rabbit Out of My Hat!”
Acts 1:1-11
May 1, 2008 (Ascension Day)
Montreat Conference Center
Presbyterian Communicators Network
Montreat, NC

For some reason, it took me a while to get to learn how to ride a bike without the training wheels. The first bike that I can remember was a green JC Penny bike with training wheels. My friend Quentin, who was younger than I was, had started riding without his training wheels and my mother thought it was about time for me to do the same.

So, she took off the wheels. I think she might have given me a push or something and I can remember pedaling and then falling down. Now, most mothers might have considered picking me up and starting over again. Not my mother. She went and sat down on the front porch and told me to try again. So I did, wondering what kind of mother would do this. I started pedaling and fell again. She didn't move. I tried again. Fell again. And again. And again. Mom just sat there and said try again.

After a while I started to pedal and pedal and pedal and I didn't fall down. I was estatic. I had finally learned to ride a bike without those training wheels.

At the time, I thought Mom was just being mean, but she was trying to help me to do this on my own and not expect that she was going to do it for me.

My experience learning to ride a bike is related to what we read in today's text from Acts. Today in the church calendar, is the Day of Ascension, the day Jesus concludes his earthly ministry and returns to heaven. He tells his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for God's promise, to wait for the Holy Spirit.

The disciples, in a classic example of not listening, ask him if he is going to restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus tells them not to worry about such things, but to know that they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit and will be his witnesses in Jerusalem until the ends of the earth.

For some reason, this scene is somewhat comical. Jesus is getting them ready for their own ministry, and they are wondering what he is going to do with the current political situation. It reminds me of a scene from the “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” where Bullwinkle tells Rocky that he's going to pull a rabbit out of hat. If you remember, he doesn't pull out a rabbit, but a lion. In some way, the disciples wanted Jesus to do things for them. They didn't get what was going on. Jesus' ministry was done, but the ministry wasn't done. It would carry on with the disciples, but they didn't see that. They were more interested in Jesus pulling a rabbit out of his hat, help them with their issues.

The thing is, the disciples aren't the only ones missing the boat. Sometimes God is speaking to us, right here and now and we fail to listen to what God has to say. We look at our shrinking churches, along with their shrinking budgets and wonder, what is God going to do about this.

I wonder at times, if God is looking at us and saying, “Don't worry about that. You will receive power from the Holy Spirit and you will be my witnesses, from Louisville, to Montreat to the ends of the earth.”

And you will be my witnesses.” That's the theme of this conference. Jesus is telling his disciples and he is telling us today, that we are to tell the story, the story of salvation to the ends of the earth. Tell the story of a God of love, who came to earth to be one with us. Share that message, and share it again and again.

I sometimes think God gets the this whole new communications revolution better than we do. God wants to reach out into the world, making connections and telling encountering people along the way. I think sometimes the church wants to have a pair of soupcans connecting ourselves to God.

But the fact is, God wants us to connect with the world and tell the story. To do that, we have to be willing to let the Spirit lead us, to have an inquistive mind to see what God is up to in the wider world.

Whether we are communicators at the church, presbytery, synod or General Assembly level, this is our charge: to find out what God is up to in the world, to be empowered by the Spirit to tell the story of healing and love to a world that desparately needs to hear it.

Let me share an example. A middle aged man recently joined the congregation I attend in Minneapolis. Before he joined our church, he visited another congregation. It was not welcoming to him and the congregation's website had outdated information. He once invited his relatives to the church and found out that the worship time had moved but wasn't reflected on the church website. He came to an emptying church where no one welcomed him. He never returned.

That congregation was not empowered by the Spirit. They were offline, not connected to the wider world and seemingly not interested in seeing what God might be doing in this man's life.

It's hard to take those first steps out of our comfort zones. But we can take heart that the Spirit is with us, that God has not left us alone in the world. God is with us every step of the way in the same way God was with the disciples as they spread the Good News throughout the known world.

Looking back, I have to thank Mom for her “tough love” approach in regards to riding a bike. In the end, she was there and I wasn't alone as I struggled to ride without the aide of training wheels.

And so it is with God. When we communicate our story, THE story, God is with us, giving us power and taking us on an unimaginable journey.

I want to end with a hymn by the hymnwriter Brian Wren. I saw this hymn as we were preparing for worship this morning. It's called “Here Am I,” and it goes like this:

Here am I,
where underneath the bridges
in our winter cities
homeless people sleep.
Here am I,
where in decaying houses
little children shiver,
crying at the cold.
Where are you?

Here am I,
with people in the line-up,
anxious for a handout,
aching for a job.
Here am I,
where pensioners and strikers
sing and march together,
wanting something new.
Where are you?

Here am I,
where two or three are gathered,
ready to be altered,
sharing wine and bread,
Here am I,
where those who hear the preaching
change their way of living,
find the way to life.
Where are you?

Where are we? Are we still looking up wondering where Jesus is going or are we seeing where God is at work in the world?

So, don't look up like the disciples, as Jesus dissappears. Look around you and see where God is acting in the world. Amen.

Note: The photo above is of Lake Susan at Montreat. Taken by my cell phone camera.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

nice sermon Dennis!