Monday, June 02, 2014

Jesus Is Praying for You on "Super Stumped Sunday"

Hey folks! What follows is a sermon I was blessed to preach this past Sunday at Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit, an amazingly welcoming congregation in Albany, NY. It was primarily on two of the appointed readings for Ascension SundayActs 1: 6-14 and John 17: 1-11. I'd love to hear what you think, and thanks for reading!

First of all, I want to thank you for so graciously welcoming me into your community here at Holy Spirit. It’s actually my first time preaching in Upstate New York…and I’m incredibly stoked to be here, especially on a day as important as this one… Super Stumped Sunday! That’s right, it’s Super Stumped Sunday, or as it’s been understood for most of Christian history, at least since the fourth century, today is the Sunday closest to the Feast of the Ascension, which took place this past Thursday, which was exactly forty days after Easter. It’s Super Stumped Sunday, which in non-church history/ liturgy nerd terms means the Sunday when Christians around the world commemorate Jesus rising up into heaven from the Mount of Olives to sit at the right hand of God… wow, Super Stumped Sunday, more often known as the Feast of the Ascension… it might not have as much street creed as Christmas or Easter, but it’s kinda a big deal… the day when Jesus no longer was in a literal sense walking around, hanging out with us here on Earth, the day when we as believers in Christ sort of needed to start figuring out what to do next… and thus the day when we very quickly realize that at least a bunch of the time, we actually have no idea how to proceed… and hence, it’s Super Stumped Sunday.

It’s not a bad thing by the way, necessarily… being super stumped. In fact, most of these situations in life, situations when we’re super stumped and that often coincidently happen around this time of year, most of these situations often take place after the most amazing of events. We graduate or watch our children and other loved ones graduate around this time of year. We plant gardens. We go to proms. We start thinking about warm weekend trips and summer vacations. We get married more often and buy more new homes around this time of year than any other. Even if you’re having a relatively uneventful season, you’ve probably spent some time recently looking back on your life over the colder winter months, evaluating your efforts and perhaps discerning how to move forward. My sisters and brothers, we are in the midst of a season of endings and new beginnings, some of which we mourn, to be fair, but many of which we celebrate. It’s a season of immense change, immense emotion, and hopefully, nearly unlimited possibilities if only we keep our eyes and hearts open.

Inevitably though, on Super Stumped Sunday, or the Feast of the Ascension, and in this season generally, we end up experiencing quite a bit of uncertainty. Look back at how the apostles acted in the passage from Acts we read in our first lesson today, which is the primary story of Christ’s Ascension in the Bible. The apostles ask Jesus when he’ll be back to lead them, but of course Jesus doesn’t give a definitive answer, instead simply ensures them they will soon receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus is then lifted up, perhaps much like we’ve seen in all those famous paintings of the story, and well, pretty soon the apostles end up just staring at the clouds. Their actions sort of ring true to our own experiences though, right? I mean whether we’ve just finished up teaching our last week of Sunday school before summer break, whether we’ve just gotten married, or just watched a granddaughter graduate from high school, just entered retirement or have just achieved some other long sought after goal, we often get stopped in our tracks, we often can’t help but take a pause, look around, and let it sink in that, wow, that really awesome thing has finally actually happened! Wow!!! We take in that we’ve finally achieved such a difficult goal! But then, all too often, just like the apostles, we get caught staring at the clouds, absolutely super stumped about what to do next.

We experience the same thing in our congregations too. From what we all said in the confession and forgiveness at the beginning of today’s service, it seems like the folks here at Holy Spirit are well aware of this issue. I’ll just reread a little part of what we all said earlier… “Newness scares us, and we confess to shutting our doors in fear. We have not listened to voices that challenge us. We have resisted the Holy Spirit moving us in new directions.” Wow. Wow… now that is a powerful, that’s an amazing thing to publicly proclaim as a congregation. And what you’ve confessed is true of course, I don’t know specifically about here at Holy Spirit, but throughout most of our congregations and certainly as the wider Church, just like the apostles super stumped about what to do next, just staring up at the clouds, we’ve for far too long spent too much time hung up on past successes and joys, the good ol’ glory days, whenever those were, than actually moving forward into the amazing possibilities of the present and the future. The good news though is that in naming our mistakes, whether as individuals, congregations or as a wider Church, we’re freed from those mistakes in Christ, and thereby liberated to begin engaging in some truly incredible new ways to serve God and neighbor.

Now the apostles experience of being caught staring up at the clouds after Christ’s Ascension certainly rings true to our experience… whether it’s something as amazing as Christ’s incarnation or something as ordinary as former years with a whole lot higher church attendance and larger budgets, we often get super stumped, hung up on past joys and achievements.  I’m gonna go out on a limb here though and say that what’s happens next in our first lesson from Acts DOES NOT always ring true to our experience. We rarely see angels flying out of the sky, at least in a literal sense, telling us to get to work. And while it’s perhaps a bit more common, it’s still pretty rare that we easily shift to what’s next, constantly devoting ourselves to prayer, and being harmoniously and perfectly of one mind as we move forward into the future. It might happen once in a while, but whether its as a congregation, as a family or in our professional lives, even though we’re called to get along and move forward hand in hand, by Christ we rarely do it in a perfect manner. Perhaps we overstep, perhaps we ignore the voices of those marginalized in our communities, perhaps we miss some other crucial factor. It’s possible, but really, really rare that we engage in new things near perfectly the first time, or with universal agreement in our communities. The apostles’ experience of being one in prayer, and sort of magically knowing how to proceed, does not usually ring true to our experience living in this time, in this place.

That’s why I’m so incredibly thankful that on this Super Stumped Sunday, on the Feast of the Ascension, we also heard the gospel message from Saint John, a message filled with profoundly good news, with amazing promise. It’s a sort of rare message too, at least as the gospels are concerned. Today’s gospel message takes place near the end of Saint John’s version of the Last Supper, but it’s radically different than the Last Supper we’re used to. Essentially, Jesus talks a really long time, like a really long time, pretty much for four whole chapters, about how we’re supposed to lead our Christian lives after he’s ascended. Then, instead of doing the whole bread and wine bit, do this in remembrance of me, which of course is extremely important, to the point that we celebrate it every Sunday during the meal, Jesus does something perhaps even more amazing… he prays for His apostles. And similarly, Jesus prays for us too, no matter how we’re living out our lives.

Just think about that… a few minutes ago during Children’s Time, parent and child laid hands on each other, saying a short prayer. The first time that ever happened to me, I’ll admit, it was a bit weird, but once I got a little more used to it, it was incredibly profound… I might be a big of a softy, but it usually made me cry. In praying for each other, we often experience a moment of amazing connection with our fellow believers, a moment of amazing grace, even at times when we’re feeling super stumped, or times of great fear. Just as we pray for each other though, as we heard in today’s gospel message, Jesus is praying for us too. Jesus is praying for us too. Jesus is praying for us, as we struggle with change and figure out how to do ministry in an entirely new context. Jesus is praying for us, for our church councils, for our treasurers, for our acolytes. Jesus is praying for us, for our Sunday school teachers, our Sunday school students and our young adults. Jesus is praying for us, for our musicians, our altar guild and even, our pastors.

We often separate our church lives from the rest of our lives, but there’s even more profoundly good news… Jesus is praying for us all the time. Who here is a health-care worker? Jesus is praying for you! Who here is in education? Jesus is praying for you! Who here is in business or finance? Jesus is praying for you! Who here works a government job? Who here works retail? Who here is retired? Jesus is praying for you! Who here is a parent, a grandparent, a son, a daughter, a spouse or a friend? Jesus is praying for you! Who here is just really darn lonely or searching for meaning? Jesus is praying for you! Just like he prayed for the apostles in today’s gospel message, Jesus is praying for all of us, as we live out our lives in churches, in our families, and in our professions. Jesus is praying for all of us, whatever we might be facing, no matter how confused, or angry, or joyful or just super stumped we may feel. Today, my sisters and brothers, on this Super Stumped Sunday, the Feast of the Ascension, know that no matter how imperfect, angry, weak or tired you might feel, Jesus is praying for you, Jesus has promised to pray for us, and Jesus keeps His promises. Amen.

Dustin is a recent graduate from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and approved candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, Dustin spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with an amazing woman named Jessie and pretending to know how to sing.

No comments:

Post a Comment