The Ascension isn’t a literal space flight.
It’s Jesus claiming his authority
to change the world.
It’s like ascending to the throne
but it’s an authority he chooses
to exercise in this world through us.
That’s why our lessons are about power.
Jesus’ last words to the apostles were:
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you . . . .
It’s Jesus’ last will and testament, his legacy to us.
He entrusts us with his mission.
To carry out that mission, we need his power.
But power makes us distinctly uncomfortable.
No one admits to wanting power.
The word power conjures up images of tyrants, dictators,
and robber barons.
Add religion and you get those triple-chinned bishops
eating turkey drumsticks in Renaissance movies.
Nice people don’t talk about power, especially in church.
So, what has power to do with Christianity?
Christians are supposed to be simpering, pusillanimous,
dispensers of charity and pious platitudes,
are we not?
But is that pusillanimous Christianity even honest?
Sociologist of religion, James Davison Hunter says,
Human relations are inherently power relations.
Power saturates all of social reality . . . .
How people engage the world is at least implicitly
a question of how they relate to power.
To truly have nothing to do with power
is to disengage from the world.
To pretend we have nothing to do with power is
to deal with the world, and with our selves, deceitfully.
So let’s talk about power honestly.
Jesus said, You will receive power.
2ndTimothy says, God did not give us a spirit of fear,
but of power . . . .
Ephesians says, Glory to God whose power working in us
can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
When we are confirmed the Bishop says,
Strengthen O Lord your servant . . . .
empower her for your service.
Jesus gives us power for his mission.
If we don’t claim that power, we remain passive parasites,
not partners in mission with Christ.
So what is this spiritual power Christ offers?
Is it something we might dare to own?
First, forget what you know about worldly power.
This is another thing altogether.
Worldly power is about domination.
It’s one person diminishing the power of another person
– making himself more by making someone else less.
Spiritual power isn’t about domination.
Jesus always resisted dominating power.
Spiritual power is relational.
It’s energy flowing between people
to make them both stronger.
Spiritual power heals, encourages, inspires.
It’s the ability to influence
-- not control – influence -- others
out of something deep and authentic.
If we are strangers, you cannot influence me.
If you are a fool, you cannot influence me
unless I’m a bigger fool than you are.
But suppose we become friends.
Suppose I trust that you mean me well.
Suppose I experience you as sane, wise, honest,
Then I will trust you
and you can influence me for good.
That’s the opposite of worldly power.
Look at any interpersonal transaction
and check the power dynamics.
Does one person exert power to diminish someone else?
Or does each person share power,
empower the other person?
That’s how we distinguish the world’s power
from Jesus power.
Remember he exercises his authority through us.
He doesn’t dominate us. He empowers us.
That’s the way he invites us to exercise power
-- by empowering others.
But we cannot empower others
unless we claim and cultivate
our own spiritual power first.
There are three ways to do that.
First, it takes prayer.
After Jesus told the apostles they were
to receive power for the mission,
the Bible says, they constantly devoted themselves
Prayer flips the switch for Christ’s power to flow through us.
Second it takes study.
Knowledge is power the adage goes.
You have the power to influence me
only if two things come together.
One, I can tell you mean me well.
Two, I can tell you know something.
Proverbs 24 verse 5:
A person of knowledge increases power.
2ndPeter says, His divine power has given us
everything we need for life and godliness.
This power was given to us through knowledge. . . .”
We do not grow strong in faith unless we value it
seriously enough to study it.
Finally, spiritual power is relational.
Its roots are in Christ-centered relationships.
Spiritual power grows through the intentional discipline
of paying attention to each other,
caring for each other,
and finding things to appreciate in each other.
We grow in spiritual power when we do three things:
Pray, study, and befriend each other in Christ.
When we do those three – pray, study, befriend –
we cease to be spiritual parasites
and become partners
-- powerful agents for the kingdom.
Eucharistic Prayer C says,
“Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this table
for solace only and not for strength.”
Friends, the Body of Christ needs a backbone.
The Body of Christ needs some fire in its belly.
The Body of Christ needs a steady eye, a firm hand,
and strong right arm.
We need Christians who pray until they radiate spirit,
who study their way into holy wisdom,
who have the caring fortitude to hold fast to a friend
in the storms of life.
When we practice that kind of religion,
we’ll have the faith of the apostles.
Then, our faith will not just be an aid to ordinary life
lived in an ordinary environment.
It will be the driving force of extraordinary life
that transforms our environment with justice and mercy.
We will be change agents for the kingdom of God.
When we live out that kind of religion,
we will be baptized with fire as the Bible promises
and the world will feel our transforming energy.