Frightened And Foolish
a cheerful little ascension sermon for terrible disciples
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised, so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24)
Preached at St John’s Cathedral this morning…sermon starts at 27:30.
(So much of the meaning comes in the way sermons are spoken…If you are able, I STRONGLY suggest listening)
Frightened and Foolish
Sometimes I think about what it would be like to really be in Jesus’ presence when he was walking the earth. I mean, apart from the fact that I would for sure be the whitest, tallest woman he’d ever seen, I like to think that in his presence I would be filled with a feeling serenity. Surely were I one of the women who followed him, I would be wiser than I am now – I mean at the very least I’d be less neurotic than I am now.
Surely, were I one of his in-real-life disciples I wouldn’t be at all like someone who, for instance, had to take her Subaru to the mechanic this week for an oil change because when she looked at that little sticker in the left corner of her windshield she realized that somehow – and I am deeply ashamed of this, but somehow the “change oil by” date was in March – of last year.
54 years old and I still find so much of life to be baffling, if I am honest. I cannot manage to keep up a yoga or meditation practice for more than a few weeks at a time, I’m a tiny bit misanthropic and can’t handle many social situations, some days all I can do is binge Netflix and Crumbl cookies, and since most of what I see about the world is determined by whatever algorithmic overlords think will make me click on the most ads, I’m not even sure what is actually true anymore. Most days I’m just guessing.
So this week as I was reading the ascension text from Luke 24 over and over I found myself baffled by what to say to you about a story where Jesus just sort of floats up into the sky like Mary Poppins because what possible difference could that make?
What possible difference does this story about the ascension make to those of us who have kids who just aren’t doing well and aging parents who just aren’t doing what we think they should. What difference does the ascension make to those who are always afraid and to the brokenhearted and to the incarcerated gals I love inside the women’s prison where I am also preaching this afternoon.
Well sometimes as a preacher, when I feel stuck like that, I try look at the context – and the context for our reading today is amazing - and when you go home, for sure go read the entire 24th chapter of Luke because it is a banger.
It starts with the women finding Jesus’ tomb empty and then,
some angels showed up, and then
the women went and told the guys who (of course) thought the women were just like, hysterical or exaggerating, and then,
the men had to see for themselves and of course they found it just as the women had said (shocking). And then, that same day
two of Jesus’ followers were on the road to Emmaus and some dude walked up next to them and was like, “hey what are you guys talking about?” and then
that same mystery guy opened their minds to the scripture and then
they asked him to stay and with them since it was getting late and he stayed for dinner and broke bread and blessed it and then,
in the breaking of the bread they realized it was Jesus all along, and then
he vanished and that same hour they went back to Jerusalem and told the others…and then
Jesus appears to them again and says peace be with you, followed quickly by do you have any snacks?.. the text says, “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”
And that is where our text for today starts.
All of this happened on the same day!
Here’s what I want to say about that:
When I read the whole chapter you know what stood out to me for the very first time? It wasn’t the angels and the magically disappearing and re appearing Jesus and it wasn’t even him floating up to heaven – what stood out to me were all the words used in the 24th chapter of Luke to describe Jesus’ followers.
Which I just take to mean all the words that maybe describe us too.
Here they are (in order):
let’s see if you relate to these at all:
thinking they are seeing ghosts
witnesses of repentance and forgiveness
Worshipers of God
I take that to mean that THE disciples who were with Jesus when he walked the earth then sound about as impressive as WE disciples who walk it now.
I find that list deeply comforting.
But my very favorite thing about the ascension text in Luke 24, that I somehow never gave much mind until this week is this at the end
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
Then he led those doubting, foolish, terrified, people out as far as Bethany and lifting up his hands he blessed them he blessed those baffled, disbelieving, worshippers of God and while he was blessing them he was carried up to heaven.
Here’s what I love about this: because nowhere does it say the he stopped blessing them. Nowhere does it say that Jesus lowered those wounded hands of his. You may have noticed that in most Christian iconography his hand is still raised.
So this week as I felt not terribly wise, or insightful, this week as I spent hours in a terrible mood for seemingly no reason and was baffled by so many things. This week as I was just a fully human still slightly neurotic and occasionally disbelieving person who almost destroyed her Subaru, I kept seeing this image of Jesus’ wounded hands raised in eternal blessing on all of it. All the complexities of our human lives.
So friends I just want to say that the ascended Christ is seated at the right hand of God, still raising his hands in blessing to us, his confused and disbelieving followers.
Years ago I wrote an unnessisarily long blessing that I have found myself offering hundreds of times in nearly every place I’ve spoken in which I argue that maybe in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus wasn’t telling us the conditions we must meet in order to be blessed, maybe he was simply blessing the ones around him that day on the hillside who didn’t otherwise receive blessing, who had come to believe that, for them, blessings would never be in the cards. I mean, come on, doesn’t that just sound like something Jesus would do? Extravagantly throwing around blessings as though they grew on trees?
So in closing I want to offer that blessing again to us today because I imagine the ascended Christ standing among us, his wounded hands still raised saying:
Blessed are the agnostics.
Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t entirely sure, who can still
Blessed are those who have nothing to offer.
Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit.
You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction.
Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears could fill an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.
Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.
Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else.
Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.”
Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers.
Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented.
Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek.
You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard.
Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists.
Blessed are foster kids and special ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved.
Blessed are those who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people.
Blessed are the burned-out social workers and the overworked teachers and the pro bono case takers.
Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak. Blessed are they who hear that they are forgiven.
Blessed are the merciful, for they totally get it.
I imagine Christ raising his hands still blessing us all because I believe that is our Lord’s nature. Because He was God’s Beatitude—he was God’s blessing to the weak, God’s blessing to the wobbly, and the terrified and the disbelieving, in a world that only seems to admire only the sure and the strong.
Happy Ascension Day.
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