Discerning Jesus After the Ascension- A Sermon for May 13, 2018 (7th Sunday of Easter)-Homilist Will Harron

Look up

While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

 Luke sure has a sense for the dramatic. The ascribed author of the Gospel of Luke is also attributed the Acts of the Apostles, and our reading from each today tells the stories of the ascension of Jesus, the show-stopping finale to Luke’s telling of the grand drama of Christ’s resurrection.

Not only has Jesus thrown down the powers of death and despair and risen from the tomb, not only has Jesus restored a fearful and fragmented church and opened their minds to scripture and the coming power of the Holy Spirit, not only has the risen Christ made himself known to his disciples and restored their faith – breathing life into dry bones and hope into tired souls.

Not only this, Luke tells us, but when it was all said and done Jesus led his disciples out toward Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, and was lifted up into heaven, carried away and hidden by a cloud.

Now that’s a way to make an exit!

The disciples, clearly gobsmacked at this turn of events, are watching this, eyes to the sky, when suddenly, two men in white robes appear and ask them a question: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

Why, if the bodily ascending of the risen Messiah into the Heaven directly before their eyes had left them with the capacity to reply, surely it would be driven away by the sudden appearance of heavenly messengers!

But Luke tells us this particular story to make an important point. Jesus has told the disciples that they will be his witness, that they will be imbued with power from God, he has opened their minds and healed their hearts and salved their consciences and restored them to strength. The resurrection of Jesus’s body is mirrored by the resurrection of his disciples, the church. Their work is ongoing, and their task is not to keep watch in the heavens for Jesus – they have a vocation, a calling, from Christ, to be in the world – not only the small world of their villages, or even to the world of Judaea, of Israel – but to the ends of the earth!

Two years ago, I was very nearly at the end of work with my discernment committee at Saint Mary’s in Dorchester. We had spent six of eight meetings working together for two hours at a time on weekday evenings, listening deeply for God as we considered the question, was I called to ordained ministry in the Diocese of Massachusetts right now? My committee was good. They gave me homework. I gave them homework back. We ate together, we prayed together, we went over my ministry and autobiographical statements, then again when I rewrote them. I came to them with my questions, what had been coming up in prayer, and they listened and asked me questions that gave me clarity. I had started the process having a hard time imagining myself saying ‘yes’ to a call. After the sixth meeting, I knew I could say yes. As I told my priest, I was 99% there.

And then, I experienced a breakthrough in prayer. I listened. And I heard, quite clearly, not now. I heard, quite distinctly, that the vocation that was calling me – the intersection of my heart’s great joy and the world’s great need – was not necessarily ordained vocation, and that I could just as well follow that calling without ordination, and that pursuing ordination right now might actually hinder me following that call. That shook me. I spent more time in prayer. I spent three days in silence in the beautiful springtime at Emery House in West Newbury, praying with the brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, and my heart did not budge from what it heard. I brought this to my priest for more prayer. And then I brought it to my discernment committee. At the seventh meeting, I shared the clarity of calling I experienced, and we sat and prayed together.

That was pretty tough – emotionally, spiritually, on me. Part of getting 99% there was envisioning futures, making tentative plans, becoming excited. Hearing ‘not now’ put a damper on that. I was alive – I had asked and I had listened and I had heard God moving in my life. And, having heard God moving in my life I was stuck, agog, gobsmacked by the sudden shift in perspective.

“While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?””

My story of discernment doesn’t end there – it remains ongoing – but the inflection end of that curve that leads to here came at a conference for young Christian leaders I attended two weeks later. At that conference I was challenged to identify my next most faithful step towards the place God was calling me – my next most faithful step towards the work that shone more clearly in my heart than an ordained vocation.

I thought on that, prayed on that, planned that, and did it, starting a young adult small group later that year and going on to focus my studies and my work on accompanying young adults as they navigate a church that all too often doesn’t know what to do with them, or what they do. I found my way to Boston University, and I found my way to Church of the Good Shepherd.

“While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?””

And so, beloved saints, the work of the church goes on. We are still, blessedly, in Easter – Happy Easter! – and we are still celebrating Christ’s victory from the grave, God’s presence with us even unto death, the Love that inhabits our hearts and animates our lives and draws our souls towards one another even across the deepest divides, through the starkest wounds.

It’s been a trying time, saints. Even amidst the new life, the trees leafed out and the flowers pushed up through the soil and the promises of summer bounty, there’s been change, and change is the worst.

Still, saints, beloved, I pray you listen. Listen for the whisper of God, for the still, small voice that speaks through earthquake, wind, and fire, listen for God in the words we retell each week, this is my body, this is my blood, given for you, poured out for you, and this, somehow, is also us, all of us – listen for God in the outrage that rises when you see injustice, listen for God in the despair that cries out when you’ve seen injustice for far too long. Listen for God when we sing, together, and listen for God when you pray, alone but not alone, with God. Listen for God, for Jesus tells us we will receive power to witness, to observe, to sense, to hear God and to follow where God leads and to lead each other to where God is calling us.

This listening, this discerning God’s word from the babble of the world, happens in community – in the love and trust and intimacy that comes from community, and is fed by our works of love: by our praying with and for each other, our sharing meals, our bearing witness to the wonders and struggles of our lives. This communion with each other, becoming the body of Christ, the fullness of the one who fills all in all –  allows us to join Jesus in hearing where God is calling us, and empowers us to follow, whether out to Bethany – Beyt-Aniy,  the house of the poor and inflicted, or into Jerusalem, the occupied city of empire. We the church are empowered above all rule and authority and power and dominion to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and to bring the transforming love of Christ that binds us together to a world in dire need of transformation.

Together met, together bound, we can hear and we can follow our vocation, the works of love to which we are called. Our love can bear witness to the love that somehow, against all the knowledge and powers of the world, came back from death to be with us and give us heart and to empower us.

And we can do all this amidst the grief of change and the despair of the seemingly unchangeable, for together we have known wonders and together we will bring about greater wonders.

“While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?””

Saints, we can look up at what went before us. We can hold, cherish, even, the relationships that went on from us. We can remember what has been, because that is still part of us. And we can do so, hand in hand, as we bring our eyes down from the heavens and look upon each other, and look upon our world, and go where God calls us.



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