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Sermon for July 2, 2019 -- LEARNING TO FLY

 “LEARNING TO FLY”

-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 6-2-2019 Pardeeville

(Luke 4:16-21 and Acts 1:6-11)

 

 

     I’d like to tell you a story about Jeremy.  Jeremy was born in the springtime, May 12 to be exact.  He was born at home and, when he opened his eyes for the first time, he realized that he had two brothers and two sisters.  His mother and father loved Jeremy and his siblings very much.  They took good care of them and made sure that everyone was safe.  Jeremy’s mother would feed him often and he was eating solid food in a very short time.  Jeremy was very happy with all this and hoped that it would go on forever in just the same way.  But one day, when Jeremy woke up, he noticed that one of his brothers was gone.  Two days later, one of his sisters was gone too.  Jeremy was somewhat puzzled by all this.  For one thing, his parents didn’t seem at all concerned about it.  If anything, they acted rather pleased.  Jeremy spent the rest of the day the same way he always did.  He felt safe because his father was watching out for him.  His mother was still bringing him food to eat.  And he had a brother and sister to play with at home.  The next day, his parents told him it was his turn to leave the house.  They wanted him to go out on his own.  Jeremy wasn’t at all sure that he could do that.  But his parents reassured him that things would be okay…that he was ready to begin this new phase of his life.  So, with his parents proudly watching, Jeremy ventured out of the house for the first time.  Now, as you may have guessed, Jeremy is a bird, a robin to be exact.  And how birds grow up and leave their nest has a lot to do with the story of the Ascension that we heard from the book of the Acts of the Apostles this morning.

     By a show of hands, how many of you celebrated the Ascension of Jesus last Thursday?  Anyone even know it happened?  Don’t feel bad.  The story of how Jesus returned to heaven quite often goes by without notice.  For one thing, it always falls on a Thursday.  Deep down somewhere inside us we know this event took place but since it’s in the middle of the week, it comes and goes without much, if any, fanfare. 

     This feast day, while an integral part of the life of Jesus, does not seem to get the recognition it deserves.  I know this will shock you but, I’m afraid I am guilty of taking advantage of the Ascension.  I have used it for my own gain at least once in my life!  I went to a Catholic institution of higher learning called Quincy College in Quincy, Illinois.  In fact I just observed the 46th anniversary of my college graduation 13 days ago.  Since the feast of the Ascension is a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church, there were never any classes held on such days.  Well, in my first year at college, I took a required course the exact name of which escapes me.  It was an art appreciation course, looking into different styles of painting, sculpture, and the like throughout the ages.  I suppose they required it so each of us would be exposed to a little culture.  Let me be clear, I only took this class because I would not be allowed to graduate if I didn’t, thus becoming an incredible embarrassment to my parents.  The class met once a week and, since everyone was required to take this course, there were several options.  Classes met at different times on each day of the week.  My first semester classes were picked for me…eliminating any chance of free will I might have thought possible.  As I was looking ahead to the second semester of my freshman year, I made a special effort to sign up for the art class that met on Thursdays.  That way I would get out of at least one of the classes when the feast of the Ascension came around.  So you see I am as guilty as anyone of trying to use the feast of the Ascension for my own personal comfort rather than celebrating it for what it means.

     As the story begins, Jesus and the disciples are having a conversation.  The disciples think they know what’s supposed to happen next.  They have been following Jesus for the past three years.  They have recently witnessed him crucified and raised from the dead.  The disciples are convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, sent by God to rescue the people, yet they still cling to the idea that a Messiah should be someone who can free them from Roman occupation.  And so they ask Jesus “Is now the time you plan to make Israel a powerhouse again?”

     Jesus had to wonder, at least for a moment, if the last three years had been worth it.  He had to be thinking that, even after all this time, nobody understood what this Messiah thing was all about.  Yet he simply tells his disciples that the time for things to happen is not meant to be known by anyone but God.  He lets them know though, that the Holy Spirit will come.  And it’s at about this time that Jesus begins a steady rise into the clouds.  The disciples can only stare as Jesus continues to rise into heaven.  The next thing they know, Jesus is gone.  They continue to gape at the sky though.  They might still be doing that had not two angels come and told them to stop!  They ask the disciples, “Why are you standing there looking up at the sky?”

     In considering the Ascension this week, I was reminded of something my Dad told my brother John and me as we grew through our teenage years.  He told us that as we got older, he would be giving us increased responsibilities.  He didn’t say this because he was tired of parenting us or because the process was complete by any means.  He knew that as we struggled with more responsibility we would sometimes make poor decisions.  But Dad also knew that we would develop problem solving skills and the ability to plan.  Dad knew that increasing responsibility was a part of the process of growing up.  He did it because he loved us.  He knew it would make us independent thinkers.  He also knew that it was not right for him to do everything for John and me.  And the thing that makes this memory so vivid for me, even more than fifty years later, is something he described might happen if we failed to take on any of that responsibility.  Someone would undoubtedly have to take care of us, tell us what to do, and basically do our thinking for us.  Dad told us, “I don’t want you to attend my funeral and, after they put Daddy in the ground, turn to the person next to you and ask, ‘How do I get home?”  Dad loved his sons very much.  It was his intention to prepare us for life on our own.  That’s why he continued to give us more and more responsibility.  And he did his best to understand whenever we screwed up.  Every time we got in over our heads Dad was there to support us and to guide us.

     The disciples did not realize it at the time but Jesus had done precisely the same thing for them.  He gave them increasing amounts of responsibility.  He left the direction for the early church in their hands.  He understood it when they made mistakes.  He tried to be patient with them, knowing they would be able to learn from their errors.  But, at that moment in today’s story when the disciples see Jesus disappear into heaven, all they could think about is, “What do we do now?”  They were paralyzed by indecision and fear.  They didn’t feel they were prepared to go on without Jesus.  But they were ready, because Jesus had continued to give them more and more responsibility.  The book of the Acts of the Apostles is filled with their successes and their failures.  The book describes the ways in which they learned how to act like a church.  They came to realize the same thing we should realize…that God has returned to heaven but is still readily available to us as we go through life on earth.

     Part of being a Christian is accepting responsibility.  God asks us go out and to make disciples of all nations.  God asks us to take care of each other, to respect each other, to value each other, to be advocates for each other.  God asks us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to welcome the stranger, to visit those in prison.  God expects us to grow in our faith and our service to others.  Unfortunately, that’s not always possible without a mistake or two so God forgives us.  Each of our experiences out in the world is an opportunity for growth.  It is an opportunity for personal growth as well as the growth of the body of Christ.

     Had we been there that day with the disciples we too might have just continued to stare at the sky.  We too might have tried to figure out “What now?”  Two thousand or so years later, we still occasionally feel that way, as if God has gone away and we’re on our own.  But that’s not true at all.  We have declared ourselves to be followers of Jesus.  We have been given work to do and gifts with which to do that work.  We carry out our responsibilities in hundreds of different ways.  One thing is certain.  We are never alone.  The God who created us and who calls us to these acts of ministry is only a prayer away.  When we fail, God does not desert us.  God is gracious and merciful.  And when we follow through on our ministry, when we feed and clothe and visit and welcome, when we make disciples and we value and respect others…those are the times that God does a fist pump and shouts, “All right!” 

     In case you haven’t noticed it, this morning’s quote on the top of the bulletin is from a man named Edward Teller.  It’s a remarkable statement about what faith is.  Remarkable first of all, because faith is remarkable.  But also remarkable because of who Edward Teller was.  This man was a theoretical physicist and an integral part of a scientific team that researched and developed the first nuclear weapons…commonly called the Manhattan Project.  It’s pretty rare that a scientist, someone who must find proof to support any hypothesis, should talk about faith at all…let alone so perfectly describe what faith is.

     Jeremy the robin wasn’t sure he was ready to leave the nest and be on his own.  We may not feel we are ready to do the things that God asks of us either.  But we’ll find out, just like Jeremy did, that as we go out on our own, God is always with us and, just like Jeremy, we will be able to soar!  Thanks be to God!     

 

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