Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 28 2017
Acts 1.6-14; Psalm 68.1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4.12-14, 5.6-11; John 17.1-11
Rev Anita Venter, Bethlehem Bible College
I remember a time in my life when my parents had to leave on a business trip for a week. My siblings and I had to stay behind … alone at home. Although I was tempted to be excited at the prospect of some freedom, seeing my parents waving their “good-bye” I was filled with a sense of sadness and fear, thinking: What if I do something wrong and burn down the house, what if my parents never come back … what if they abandon us? I remained in the driveway watching them as they disappeared.
Back in the house I was reminded of their love, as they did not leave us empty-handed. The freezer was packed with pre-prepared meals my mother knew to be our favourite. I remembered her pep talk, promising that they would return, but in the meantime they needed us to behave and be good kids, not fighting with each other.
Stuck on the fridge was a list of instructions to remind us on how to use appliances, a to-do-list to keep the house and garden in order, a list of telephone numbers to call in case of emergency. Our neighbour Auntie Joan reassured us of her availability when needed. A huge comfort that we were not totally abandoned. We were fully equipped for the week ahead.
Today is Ascension Sunday, and our lectionary readings pose us with some serious challenges. We remember that Jesus after his resurrection departed this earth to rejoin God in heaven. I can imagine his disciples were not really excited about the idea of his departure. They stared into the skies – a bit stunned. Perhaps quite worried to stay behind – alone – without Jesus. An angel assured them that it was just a matter of time before Jesus would come back in the same way they saw him going to heaven.
Yes, Jesus did affirm that he was not abandoning them. He was going to send them a helper and comforter, the Holy Spirit. But you know how it is when someone leaves – even if they have prepared you beforehand. Not exactly knowing what to expect, not yet knowing who the Holy Spirit was, I am sure Jesus’ followers were left with some abandonment issues.
A fellow missionary, in her sermon delivered on Ascension Thursday, pointed us to a different angle of the ascension. Inspired by a painting of the ascension that depicted only Jesus’ feet poking out of the cloud that carried him away, she thought it to be funny, but also thought it to make perfect sense.
It makes sense because first, Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures. Then before ascending to heaven he gave them a to-do list as he commissioned and blessed them to go out to be his ambassadors, to be witnesses, to proclaim the good news in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
As Jesus ascended he left them with one last image of himself, in the form of his feet, to observe and think about.
Dust from the roads of Galilee,
Dirt from consorting with sinners,
Callouses from standing with the oppressed,
Blisters from walking in the shoes of the poor,
And the holes:
Holes from the nails which held him on the cross,
Holes from which poured the blood of our salvation.
Some instructions on the to-do list were to stay. To be patient, and to wait. To be empowered. To be in the world … and on top of that Peter found his way into our lectionary readings telling us not to be surprised when we face fiery trials … when we face suffering.
John has much to say too as he reminds us of Jesus’ prayer on the night of his betrayal. A heartfelt prayer asking God to protect the disciples and help them to be one, just as he and his Father are one. If we read beyond verse 11, we see that Jesus continued his prayer, including us too.
A friend of mine says: “It might be true that when God closes one door, God also opens another, but it is hell in the hallway.”
That is exactly where we find ourselves today. We live in the gap between the ascension and the fullness of time when all things will be restored in Christ at his second coming. And in the meantime, it sure is hell in the hallway as wave after wave of terror washes over mother earth.
We only have to look at the latest news of the killings of more Christians in Egypt. We are facing yet another refugee crisis as ISIS militants attacked the Muslim majority city of Marawi in the Philippines, causing most of its 200,000 residents to flee. Heart-breaking images keep popping up on my newsfeeds … one of which was a little girl carrying her cat as she fled from those wanting to kill her.
Families and friends in Manchester are facing fiery trials at the loss of their loved ones. Just off the coast of Libya more refugee toddlers lost their young lives, bringing the death toll of kids drowning in the Mediterranean to over 200 this year alone. Unaccompanied children moving across the borders have reached a record high of 300,000 in the past two years, only to put them at risk of more hardship of human trafficking and other forms of abuse. At an age at which most kids need supervision to complete their homework, these children have to cross continents alone.
The media resound with voices needing to speak their truth. Voices seeking to assign blame … Voices seeking retaliation, grieving voices calling for action, voices lamenting and raging … voices of the oppressed calling for justice …
Having seen how the world works, we arm ourselves and prepare for war rather than to work for peace and justice, thus becoming part of the problem. We hear voices saying “It’s just the way it is. It’s too hard. There’s nothing we can do that will make a difference.” These are the voices of those who saw the hard realities of the world that crushed their spirits and defeated their hopes. Facing hell in the hallway, feeling hopeless, forgetting the power within us, too often we allow ourselves to be silenced. We become “living dead”, instead of proclaiming life. We have the light in us, but we hide it instead of letting it shine.
Amidst of all this sorrow, I cannot help but see the feet of Jesus, walking through the plains of devastation, hearing his voice: “Loved ones, why are you downcast? Why are you devastated? You received power when the Holy Spirit came upon you. Now get up, take courage and be my witnesses ….”
Jesus is no longer in the world, but we are. Celebrating ascension, we celebrate Jesus being free from the bounds of time and space, so he is able to be everywhere at once. We celebrate that Christ is present through us, his disciples.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit we have a to-do list. We are to continue Jesus’ ministry. To be the feet of Jesus, we need to be willing to face callouses and blisters as we stand with the poor and oppressed. We are to endure persecution to portray his heart of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and love. We had enough exhortations to be silent. We are to be his voice, to cry out with a thousand tongues against all forms of injustice. We are to be his hands, to open our borders, to invite people in, feeding the poor, providing shelter for the displaced. We are to be united in working for peace, loving our neighbour, forgiving and praying for our enemies.
Recently, in a hopeful message to people of all faiths, to those who have power as well as those who don’t, Pope Francis in his TED talk encouraged us to unity, equality, solidarity, tenderness and humility: “… we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone.”
“Tenderness is not weakness. It is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility. Please, allow me to say it out loud and clear, the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina ‘Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach’. You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the ‘other’ is not a statistic, or a number. We all need each other.”
And so on this Ascension Sunday, let us anew remember and embrace the power within us, thereby find new hope, and believe that we can re-shape the world by our actions in it. By what we say and do, and by what we let pass, what goes unsaid.
To accomplish this, we need to become the powerful force Jesus meant us to be, to be unified as Father and Son, to be witnesses of Christ.
 Carrie Ballenger Smith, “The Feast of Both Feet: A Reflection for Ascension Day 2017”
 ISIS in Marawi. Airstrikes hit ISIS loyalists in the Philippines. Tens of thousands have fled as the fighting continues.
 Child refugees by the numbers. As leaders gather for the G7 summit, we look at just how bad things have gotten for refugee children.
 Pope Francis, “Why the only future worth building includes everyone”, TED2017, April 2017