May 12, Ascension

What follows are my own thoughts on what the Ascension Gospel Story is saying to me today on my journey, a personal thing. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not about what Jesus did, but what he is doing now. In today’s Gospel Story you tell us, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature”. You did not give a code of conduct, or a book of questions and answers, important though they might be. These came years or even centuries after you returned to your Father, and reflect local or world events and circumstances that gave rise to them. The Story tells me how I am to live, not how I am to demand others live so things will be easier for me. Also, it does not mean I can force my understanding of the Gospel on others, something that is dangerously common these days.  

There is a saying in scriptural theology that all the scriptural stories are true, and some of them even happened. The Ascension Story does not tell of an historical event, but offers insight to what your followers in different places thought about you, how you were different after your Crucifixion and Resurrection. The communities used typical images of the day to express their belief. You did not go “up”. Heaven is not a place but a different mode of being not “far” from “where” we are now. The veil is very thin, as we may come to know from time to time.

You gave your followers a way of living in the time they spent with you. You offer me the same. If I am open, I can learn from the time I spend with you, which means I need to find a way of doing this. After you returned to your Father, to being Christ, you sent your Spirit to your followers. They accepted the mission you gave them and were changed, often dramatically. Your way of life is never popular because it moves your followers beyond our personal comfort and convenience to living our Father’s love with whomever you send into our life. We are created to reflect the community that we know as Trinity. And this happens in very specific circumstances, at times very messy and difficult ones. Your apostles show this in how they lived your love and compassion after you left.

Your Gospel is a way of living. You invite us to follow you and know God as our loving and compassionate Abba. You are the Word of God, of your Abba. Each of us also is a word of our Abba, an expression of our Abba, a choice of our Abba. You show us what is important to Abba from a human perspective, how we are created to live. I proclaim the Gospel by how I live, not by what I say. I’m not doing too well with that. My ego, my desire for comfort and control, having things go my way, my need for recognition, are a real problem. Everything you showed your followers was about living our Abba’s love and compassion with folks who, for whatever reason, were considered outcast, unacceptable, unworthy by the temple system. What about when this is happening today, as it really is? I know many good folks on all sides of issues who are judging and saying nasty things about others with whom they disagree.

These past several days I have been with good folks who are hurting for any number of reasons — folks feeling alone or ignored, angry, mistreated, accused or blamed for whatever, folks feeling betrayed by their religious tradition and its interpretation of your gospel, people carrying unbelievable loads, other priests who are having a most difficult time just doing what the church gives them to do and feeling unsupported, alone, misjudged — the not so nice human side of the church. Especially painful are good folks judged and condemned, allegedly in your name, because of how they see themselves or whom they love. How do I deal with the people who are doing the judging, labeling, and condemning while claiming to act in your name, locally and elsewhere? This is a real problem, and for me a painful one. I know folks on all sides, and they are good people. I’m not sure I want to be a part of all this anymore. I don’t believe that stuff. What are you saying here? How do I proclaim your gospel now, in all this? Today?  

The mission you give  is not about telling others how to live, but to be aware of you on my own journey, to question, to doubt, to wonder. Your gospel is a call to act, as you did. You don’t call me to be a Lone Ranger, but to be with others who also are trying to know you on their journey, as they write their story. We differ from each other, can learn from each other if we want to, support each other, aware that none of us has all the answers or the only way to know you happening. With your help and wisdom, and my willingness and consent, I can come to recognize you in the most unexpected persons and happenings, some good, others downright nasty. Somehow it’s all you.

Earlier this morning the birds were chirping in the tree next to my balcony. Now they are gone and the rumble of thunder is getting closer. Then there is the sound of sirens reflecting an emergency of some sort and good folks on the way to helping somebody in need. Life is happening all around. It’s all you. Richard Rohr says “Christ is another word for everything”, the good behind all the bad. I believe this. You are the creative compassionate presence of Abba happening in and around us since the beginning and in our here and now, and I know this in my own life, how real you are. What are you saying to me? Don’t know if I can ask what you are saying to us, I’m too narrow minded and weak for that. You say, “I am with you always”. Where are you now? What do you ask of me? Is it time to pull pitch? Will I ever know?  Do I need to know? I’m ok with that. You have been, and are now, very good to me, much more than I could ever deserve, and I am grateful. And I wander and wonder. Wouldn’t change a thing. Just sayin .  .  .