Sunday, June 1, 2014


Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension.
We celebrate Christ coming at Christmas,
            but what are we to make of his departure?
What do we make of our Lord flying off and leaving us behind?

John is a funny gospel because it doesn’t always tell the Jesus story.
The other gospels had already done that,
            so John isn’t that interested in the story.
He’s interested in showing us what the story means.

Today’s Gospel lesson doesn’t tell the story of the Ascension,
            but it tells us what the Ascension means.
It explains the profound shift in the story and the change in our religion
            that happens at this point.
In capsule form, we find it in a single verse:
            Jesus prays to the Father:
            “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”

Jesus has passed the torch of the Christ light to us.
We have been given the mission.
We are the ones to reveal God’s love as Jesus did.

Jesus was preparing his disciples for this. When he taught them,
            “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you . . . .
                        Now love one another.”
The shift in our religion is from a relationship with Jesus
            to a relationship with each other.

That is why in our Baptismal Vows which we will renew today
            we promise “to seek and serve Christ in all persons.”
This is why John in his first epistle says,
            Anyone who claims to love God but hates his brother is a liar.
            If he does not love his brother whom he has seen,
                        he cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

The Christianity Jesus leaves us with at the Ascension
            is a profoundly humanistic religion.
But that humanism can get lost in our religiosity.
I think for example of a well-loved Cursillo song.
I am all for Cursillo and there is something legitimate in the piety of this song,
            but I see a problem.
It goes:
            Turn your eyes upon Jesus
            Look full on his wonderful face
            And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
            In the light of his glory and grace.

I get the piety. I even like the piety.
But if thinking about Jesus makes “the things of earth
            grow strangely dim,”
            that’s not the kind of religion we read about in John.
Jesus says head on, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world.”
Quite the opposite, he says:
            “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”
Biblical Christianity is a deeply worldly religion.
James Fenhagen, the late dean of General Theological Seminary,
            said in his essay “The Anglican Way”
            that Anglican spirituality is an intentional practice
            of “holy worldliness and worldly holiness.”
We are not set apart from the world,
            not set apart from the human drama
authentic Christianity is lived up to our chins in the human milieu.

That’s what the Anglican priest and poet John Donne meant
            when he wrote,
            “No man is an island
             Entire of itself . . . .
            I am involved in mankind.”

This holy worldliness, this Christian humanism
            consist of two basic practices:
First, we act as Jesus to others.
Second, we find Jesus, not just in the Bible,
            not just in the sacrament, not just in prayer,
            but in other people.
It is as simple as our baptismal vow
            to seek and serve Christ in all persons.
We want to show our love for God, we show compassion to one another.

To be Christ for others and to find Christ in others,
            we have to know something about Christ.
That’s what he rest of the Jesus story is there to teach us.
It shows us what to do and how to be.
And it shows us what to look for in others.

As we read the Gospels,
            we find a Jesus who is sometimes strong, wise,
            merciful, forgiving, reconciling.
That’s what we are called to be.
But we also find a Jesus who was homeless,
            rejected, and condemned.
That’s Christ too. 
When we experience those things,
            we are experiencing Christ,
And when we see others enduring those hardships,
            we see and serve Christ in them.

Some brands of religion are attempts to unite ourselves
            with an eternal transcendent God
            in order to escape “the changes and the chances”
            of our “all too human” life.
Christianity turns the religious project on its head,
            because or goal is to unite ourselves to a God
            who chooses to live this human life.

Our faith is not an abstraction.
It is not an escape from this life.
It is a plunge deeply into reality,
            especially the reality of caring for one another.