My sermon for this week was based on Luke 24:44-53.
This week, Christianity celebrated the Ascension. The Ascension is regarded as the last of the 5 pivotal milestones in Jesus' earthly life, the others being his Baptism, the Transfiguration, Crucifixion and Resurrection.
One would be hard-pressed to say which of those 5 events was the most important to Jesus himself, but I would argue that the Ascension is the most important event for us today as modern Christians. I would argue that is many ways, it is even more important than the Resurrection.
The reason I say this is that the Ascension marked Jesus' last moment on earth in the company and presence of his followers. It represents the last time he existed in the real-world, three-dimensional, discernible-by-our-five-regular-senses sense of existence.
More importantly, the Ascension represents the moment when Jesus entrusted and bequeathed his mission and ministry upon his followers. The Ascension marks the point when Jesus left what he had started in the hands of those who followed him, and by extension, when he left that in our hands because we are literally modern-day disciples.
The Ascension marks the point at which Jesus basically said, "Ok, everything that I started is now in your hands. It is up to you now. You can do this, go out and heal the world, let them know of God's love".
And this is the problem: I don't know if many Christians see themselves as modern-day disciples, but that is what we are. I think too many Christians are comfortable with an "armchair" faith where they clock in their hour a week at church, bake a tray of lemon squares for the bake sale, pray for the poor, and feel that they are done for the week.
Not that I have anything against lemon squares or prayer, mind you, but a life of Christian faith calls us to more of a responsibility than that, and the Ascension marks that moment in time where the first Disciples had to take that responsibility because Jesus was not around any more to do it for them.
If we reflect on the story arc of the Gospels, we will notice that the Disciples never seemed to fully "get" Jesus and what he was all about. It is pretty clear that their expectations of Jesus were consistent with the general expectations of the time: that the Messiah would be a great warrior-king who would lead an armed uprising and throw off the shackles of oppression through force.
They seemed to have no understanding of Jesus being God's begotten son, of Jesus literally embodying everything God was and had. They seemed to willfully ignore Jesus statements that he would have to die and be resurrected. And more importantly, they seemed not to realize that Jesus was preparing them to take over the reins when he was gone.
In my interpretation of the Gospels, Jesus never said, "Worship me" or "Start a religion in my name". The whole concept of soteriology (salvation theology) is admittedly quite blurry and confusing to me, but here are a few things I know Jesus said, or at the very least the Gospel writers were wise enough to attribute to Jesus:
"Love others as I have loved you"
"Love your enemies, do good to them"
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength...Love your neighbour as yourself"
"Whoever wants to be great must be a servant"
Does this sound like Jesus wanted his Disciples to be passive recipients of his message, like spectators at a one-man traveling show? Far from it. Jesus wanted, told them, indeed empowered them to go out there in the world and do what he did: heal, preach, teach, accompany and companion the sick, the lonely, the bereft, the despondent, the hopeless.
This is action talk, not sit-down-and-take-it-all-in talk. Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of prayer, rest, recreation and meditation, and of course one could argue quite convincingly that those are actions in and of themselves...you are not doing nothing when you rest, you are recouping energy to go out into the world. But that is I think where the rubber hits the road when it comes to being Christian: out there in the world.
We have been granted a great responsibility and a great honour: to continue what Christ started, to go out and heal a broken world, one broken person at a time; to heal our own brokenness; to provide hope to the hopeless and solace to the lonely; to uphold justice, mercy, peace and understanding.
This is not something we do sitting down.
Today I hope and pray that as we approach Pentecost Sunday, that day where we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our ministry, that we will have the sense of love for the world that Jesus had, and that it will lead us out as it did him to do good in the world.