Baptismal Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, Senior Minister of The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, May 12, 2002, The Seventh Sunday of Easter, dedicated to the honor of my mother, Lorene Kellermeyer Ahrens on the occasion of her 74th Birthday, for Ian Gleissner on his baptismal day, and to three remarkable young women: Freweine Berhane, Meredith Cline, and Chantel Genwright, recipients of the 2002 Mary Schumacher awards and as always, dedicated to the glory of God!
Acts 1:6-14 and John 17:1-11
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock & our salvation. Amen.
As a new day dawned on our nation this Sunday morning, once again light was shed on the divisions among the American people. Every Sunday, a great division takes place as some people go to church and most stay home. Those not going to church aren't taking a week off, church is simply not a part of their lives. In the America of our 21st Century, this growing divide is a reflection of a growing religious diversification - which may ultimately mean fewer Christians, and more and more Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and other religious believers. But it's more than religious diversity. For a growing number of post-Christians, "houses of worship are little more than antiques, fussed over by wishful thinkers who do not know when to admit they are wrong and go home." Think about it. From the stay-at-home viewpoint what we do must look like one of the most peculiar things 21st Century human beings can do - come together week after week with no intention of being productive, but joining in full voice to declare that things they cannot prove about a God they cannot see are true. (Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine, Cowley Publications, Boston, Mass., 1995, p. 72).
Is it any wonder that those who stay home think us odd, or worse, look down on us and speak of us in pejorative terms? Who can blame them? In fact, there is a constant temptation to be them - because we know what the day is looking like from their perspective! We've been there. We've done that. We know the ebb and flow of the Sunday rituals as we view it from the home front. But we come . . .
And what we do here is worship God. We choose to worship in the Trinitarian manifestation of Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Yet, however we name this worship experience, whatever we do and say here, it is what we do over and over again. In so doing, we find our place in the universe - living between past and future, between pain and healing, between our faith and fears, between earth and heaven. This is how and where we learn who we are and what we are supposed to be doing. Worship brings us together in silence and song, in music and spoken word, in the embrace of Christ's peace and the tears of unknowing. We peer into the darkness together, hold on to each other and ask questions. Some of the questions seem constantly and consistently unresolved. Some of the questions find their illuminating answers in holy scripture. But, we keep coming and just like the creation of the universe itself, from the words of Genesis, we echo God's reflective love, "It is good!"
We may continue to baffle our neighbors and unbelieving friends who wonder why we do what we do especially when some leaders and people in the church draw attention to the church by acting like the antithesis of Christ in inappropriate ways. But if we baffle our friends and neighbors, we must admit that often we baffle ourselves, proclaiming good news when the news is so bad, trusting the light when the sky is filled with darkness, continuing to wait on a savior in our midst when all the evidence suggests that he was lifted up and carried into heaven a long time ago. (Drawn from Ibid, pp. 72-73).
In Acts 1:6-14, we are told of the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. This story is how the Gospel of Luke ends and the Book of Acts opens. On Mt. Olivet (the same place where he was praying when arrested and carried away to crucifixion), the Risen Christ rises once again. With his disciples watching, he offers a final blessing, and is transformed and transported to heaven. While you and I find ourselves relating to Jesus as newborn, as a young boy in the temple, as carpenter, fisherman, teacher, healer, and all his human dimensions, we struggle to relate to Jesus rising unto heaven and sitting at the right hand of God. Nevertheless, the highest point of the Jeffrey Window in the altar area shows the ascension of Christ to heaven. And, not only here, but throughout the Christian church, this image is captured in stained-glass. It is our way of remembering and visualizing his transformation on high. But, it still leaves me feeling a little empty. I would prefer to have him return. I would prefer his presence to his absence. I would prefer to be his disciple, following him around in the flesh; rather than to be his witness, having to tell others all about him and living his way.
But, what I would prefer isn't God's plan. God's plan is that we are to be fueled and fed by the Holy Spirit. We are to be guided and led by the testimonies of faith from the first church and empowered for faith and action by the tests we faced in our own times. God's plan was to take Jesus away so that instead of looking up to heaven and standing in awe of him, our eyes would come and settle upon the horizon of life and see the needs of those around us - the ones for whom we are to care and tend.
One of my favorite apocryphal stories comes from the day of Ascension - but it comes from the view of heaven. As Jesus entered the gates of heaven and headed for his place at the right hand of God, he was stopped by the littlest angel who had been watching from on high what had been happening down below. The littlest angel asked Jesus, "Who are those people looking up to heaven?" Jesus answered, "they are my disciples." To which the angel continued, "What are they going to do now that you are up here?" Jesus answered, "They will carry my message to the far corners of the earth." Looking down and scratching his head, the angel asked, "Don't you have another plan if that doesn't work?" Kneeling down and smiling, Jesus replied, "No, little one. They are my only plan. If they can't carry my word forward to others, no one can." The littlest angel continued scratching his head and musing, "Well, if that's your only plan, I hope it works." Jesus said, "It will work."
With nothing but a promise and prayer, the eleven abandoned disciples, took the mantle of Jesus Christ and carried it to a world hungering and thirsting for his word and way. The followers became leaders, the listeners became preachers, the converts became missionaries, the healed became healers. The disciples became apostles and witnesses of the Risen Christ and by the promised power of the Holy Spirit they carried the message to the far corners of the world and nothing was ever the same again. (Ibid, p. 77). Now it would have been easier if Jesus had stayed with them and made things happen for them, but the Gospel might never have made it out of First Century Palestine if God had chosen that plan. There was no other plan and those who were transformed in living it out were never the same again.
This Mother's Day, this Festival of the Christian Home Sunday, we have been blessed to be reminded of God's plan through our participation in Ian's baptism. We have also been blessed to meet three young women who live the compassionate way of Christ in their lives, although in so doing, they do not necessarily call themselves Christians. We are witnesses to their good works and their loving way. As witnesses we are humbled by their accomplishments at such a young age. But, we are also empowered to live in similar ways. We are encouraged to join them on this journey of life as doers of God's word, not just speakers only. So thank you once again Freweine, Meredith and Chantel for living your way of compassion and love.
As we take our eyes from the vision of the ascending Christ, may we do as the disciples, drop our eyes from the heights to the horizon, see each other clearly and get on with the business of the church - which is unifying, healing, teaching, speaking and living the Word of God, opening our arms and our hearts to all people, standing up and speaking out for justice and peace, and glorifying and worshiping God in all that we do. And then, we will find, through speaking and living God's word, those who are not coming will come. After all, if we don't do it, who will? For we are our Ascended and Risen Lord's only plan. Amen.
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