Sermons > Sunday after the Ascension


16 May 2010

“‘I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me though their word.” (John 17:20)                              In the name …

We are now in a time of liturgical limbo.  The Ascension of Jesus is a few days past and Pentecost is still a week away, and we’re stuck here in between.  It’s still technically the Easter season, but it’s different because we are now remembering not only a resurrected Jesus, but a Jesus who has ascended into the glories of heaven.  Right after Easter we heard stories of Jesus meeting directly with His disciples in the Upper Room, and of Jesus sitting by the shore and eating breakfast with some of His followers.  But now the stories we hear of Jesus are like the one in today’s Lesson.  He is all-powerful and regal.  He is as it says in the book of Revelation:  “The Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Rev. 22:13)  The stories have moved our perspective from Jesus tangibly present among His followers in very ordinary circumstance to a Jesus who promises that He will return in glory and power when all things are accomplished at the end of time.  He has ascended into the heavens and left us behind in a certain tangible sense, and at the same time His promise to send the Holy Spirit to dwell among us has not yet been fulfilled.  So we’re in this limbo between the Ascension and Pentecost.  And this mirrors the situation of the disciples some 2,000 years ago.  Our liturgy truly does reflect our history.

This awkwardness gives us some sense of what the church would have been like if it were only a human endeavour without the help of God.  Today’s Gospel returns us to the Last Supper.  The disciples overhear Jesus’ prayerful conversation with God in heaven.  In their small gathering of the Upper Room, Jesus says to the Father, “‘I pray not only for them …’”, that is not only for the disciples gathered around the table.  Then He continues, “‘But [I pray] also for those who will believe in me through their word.’”  Jesus says this on the verge of His crucifixion.  He doesn’t even need to be a prophet to tell what the future holds for Him the next day.  All the signs are pointing to a final confrontation with His enemies.  His death will not be unexpected.  And still Jesus prays to the Father in heaven not only for those who care about Him, but also for the others beyond that first Eucharistic table. 

This is Jesus’ expectation of His followers, but the reality doesn’t play-out like that.  It’s now been 43 days since they witnessed the empty tomb and 3 days since they watched Jesus ascend into the heavens, and they have done nothing!  They have not broken-out beyond their small group to even one person.  They have told not a single soul a word of the gospel.  It’s like their world is that small group locked in the Upper Room.  As a matter of fact, their last words to Jesus on the Mount of Olives before He is taken away into the sky are a question about when God will restore the kingdom of Israel, and remember, they had been promised thrones in that new kingdom to be seated as judges alongside of Jesus.  Their faith is secure.  They know as eye witnesses that Jesus is Saviour and God.  Knowing this, what do they have to fear?  And yet, not a word is spoken.  Why?  It can’t be a question of faith because they’re eyewitnesses of the resurrection and the ascension.  So is it possibly because they are hoping that Pentecost will bring the glories of the kingdom of God to them?  That before the Holy Spirit comes to inspire them on Pentecost, that they are imagining in their faith that what is expected of them is to wait for the glory of God’s kingdom to be revealed in its fullness?   This would mesh with everything we know of the disciples up to this point of the story, and if we want to be honest, it meshes well with how churches act far too often still today, as if this place were our whole spiritual world, as if we were waiting for God to come to us, as if others were of no concern to Christ.

Too often I hear about those whom the church excludes or of matters that aren’t the concern of the church. For instance, I drove by a billboard on the Mass Pike this past week.  I guess if you believe in evolution, as I do, you can’t believe in God.  You’re excluded.  A young person just told me of a family that left a church because in their Christian education classes their children were told to have nothing to do with gays.  Don’t go to their homes, don’t be friends with them, don’t associate with them in any way.  They’re excluded. [http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/05/16/in_the_face_of_prejudice/; http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/05/16/good_call_by_archdiocese/]  Some people don’t think of issues like the environment as at all a religious issue.  Some would not count feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, helping the local community, or anything else like that as essentially part of the church’s worship.  And this is when I can’t help but think about the irony that it is around the very first Eucharistic table that Jesus says, “‘I pray not only for them …’”, for those here with me now, that Jesus’ concerns are broader than this.

Which all reminds me of a recent e-mail I received.  It was titled God loves fools too.  A man and his wife were awakened at 3:00am by a loud pounding on the door.  The man gets up and goes to the door where the small town’s eccentric citizen, standing in the pouring rain, is asking for a push.  "Not a chance," says the husband, "it’s 3:00 in the morning!"  He slams the door and returns to bed.  "Who was that?" asks his wife.  "Just that nut from across town asking for a push," he answers.  "Did you help him?" she asks.  “No, I did not, it is 3:00 in the morning and it is pouring rain out there!"  "Well, you sure have a short memory," says his wife. "Can't you remember about three months ago when we broke down, and those two guys helped us?  I think you should help him, and you should be ashamed of yourself!"  The man does as he is told, gets dressed, and goes out into the pouring rain.  He calls out into the dark, "Hello, are you still there?"   "Yes," comes back the answer.  "Do you still need a push?" calls out the husband.  "Yes, please!" comes the reply from the dark.    "Where are you?" asks the husband.  "Over here – on the swing set," replies the old eccentric.  And God loves him too.  As church we need to be more serious about “I pray not only for them.”  Ours is not a calling to wait for Christ to come back in glory and congratulate us.  Here we find our strength and our purpose so that we can make a difference in the world.  Ours is the responsibility to reach out to others and into the world for Christ and to realize that “others” can mean just about everyone.  For this kind of an active, inclusive and involved faith, for this we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo

 

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