Sermon–Ascension–May 17, 2015

Ascension Day
May 17, 2015
William Bradbury

Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47
or Psalm 93
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

My four year old granddaughter created this game last summer called Farm Restaurant: I sit on a stone bench next to a side door of the garage as she stands in the garage behind the door. I knock on the door, she opens it, welcomes me to the Farm Restaurant, and asks if I’d like to order something to eat. I tell her what I’d like; she closes the door, and returns a moment later with my food. After eating it, we trade places and she places her order—this game has no winners or losers just as it has no end. What it does have are the interlocking worlds of an ordinary garage and a magical restaurant that serves marvelous food.
It reminds me of those interlocking worlds of an ordinary wardrobe in a bedroom in wartime England and the magical realm known as Narnia, where Aslan the Lion is reclaiming Narnia from the evil White Witch who turned Narnia into perpetual winter and her enemies into statues.
It is the child in C. S. Lewis that invites our inner child out of the flatland of our two-dimensional world into a multidimensional world of mystery and wonder.
The Bible is best read with this child’s mind because it also speaks of interlocking worlds. I think of the bush in the desert that is burning but not being burned up, out of which Moses receives a call to be God’s agent in liberating the Jewish slaves; or the man who is dead, with the wounds to prove it, encountering his disciples with the call to be God’s agents in bearing witness to God’s liberation of the world through himself.
And we especially need a child’s mind to understand what we are hearing today in the ascension: The Risen Christ disappears into a cloud, like a wardrobe, and enters not another place but another dimension, called heaven. Heaven is not some place far, far away, but the executive control center for the universe that touches every point, place, and person on earth. See more in the excellent book by N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
As Karl Barth says, “…before their eyes Jesus ceased to be before their eyes”. Remember in the movie “Field of Dreams” the cornfield which is the transition between heaven and a baseball field in Iowa? Jesus enters the cloud, not to play baseball but to run creation, not with an iron fist and a cold heart, but with nail scared hands and a heart broken by love, coaxing us to drop our fear and accept his love and his lordship.
The Ascension is a story about Jesus’ enthronement. When Queen Elizabeth dies in 20 years, then Prince Charles, if he is still living, will be enthroned as King. Who knows, maybe, one day Princess Charlotte will sit on the throne.
Ephesians says, God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

The first statement of faith in the early church that revealed you were a Christian was the simple phrase, “Jesus is Lord”. The so-called grown-up in us, living in the arrogant illusion that nothing can be true unless it fits our two dimensional world, can’t make anything of this.
The whole project of Modernity is precisely to rid ourselves of the childish notion that we have any Lord but ourselves.
As Will Willimon puts it: …“the modern world was an attempt to have a world that successfully excluded a living, revealing God. It is no coincidence that the world thereby constructed may have been history’s most inhuman age, an age that is known, not for its creative arts, but rather for the production of the biggest bomb and the bloodiest wars. Without God, anything that humanity can dream is possible—genocide, environmental degradation, the extermination of species, and other nightmares of human ingenuity.”
The child in us, however, welcomes these interlocking dimensions of heaven and earth that we see in Jesus of Nazareth who is Lord.
Since Jesus is Lord, we are finally free to imagine that Caesar is not, that mechanized violence is not, that the American Way of Life is not, and my bank account is most certainly not lord.
Since Jesus is Lord we can begin to live as those surrounded at all times by the unconditional love and protection of God, and discover that in spite of their sins supernatural love falls on everyone else too—even our enemies.
When we let ourselves imagine that we are citizens of heaven we will find our true purpose on earth, as good will ambassadors of heaven.
Acknowledging Jesus as Lord also changes our prayer from being self-centered to being God-centered and other centered.
As Willimon says, when we imagine we are under the Lordship of Jesus “prayer is the gutsy willingness to let God be God in your life…. Prayer is not so much what we say but a determined willingness to let God have God’s say. Prayer is not so much an articulation of what I want but rather a risk of being exposed to what God wants. Prayer is the possibility that I might be changed in the conversation.”
As he points out, it is worth noting that in the Lord’s Prayer, “Jesus does not begin with us and our need but rather with God and God’s nature, with exposure to the demands of a living God—thy name be hallowed, thy will be done, thy kingdom come, on earth as in heaven.”

Our needs and wants come later in the prayer when we get clear on who is Lord and who we have to forgive.

“Jesus is Lord” is the proclamation of the Ascension. It is a proclamation of great comfort because it reorients us to true north.
As a young monk Martin Luther suffered enormous mental anguish, causing him to fall out in the middle of worship, because he felt his sinfulness so strongly and knew he could never fix himself, he lived in perpetual fear that in addition to being “love God might also be an angry judge ready to bring justice upon him.
The God of unconditional love and forgiveness we meet in Jesus Christ is too much for the logical mind and the vindictive heart. It wants retributive justice for others, like was announced Friday for the Marathon bomber, but when we want this for others we feed the unconscious fear that the same justice will find us one day too.
No matter how many times Luther’s spiritual director told him to trust God he simply could not believe or trust that God was completely for him.
But once the Word of God invaded his two-dimensional mind, he could really understand that God in Christ is for him.

Jesus enters our fallen humanity and for his trouble is given the death penalty by Imperial Rome, in order to save us from ourselves.
Now we are free as God’s children to play in the Kingdom of the Lord.
Now we are free as Christ’s disciples to work for the Kingdom.
Today we are free in relaxed faith to pray as our Lord has taught us:

“Our Father in heaven, holy is your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”