Sermon 6/2/19: Look Out, Not Up

Pastor Michelle Sevig

The Ascension of Our Lord

June 2, 2019

Look Out, Not Up

Happy Ascension Day everyone! Well, actually, it was on Thursday, it’s always on a Thursday--40 days after Easter--but today we celebrate the ascension of Jesus.

Are you excited? Did you send out your family’s Ascension greeting cards, like we do at Christmas? Did you wear your Ascension bonnet and special clothes like we do for Easter? Or maybe you knew to wear white and gold liturgical colors today like we do when wear fiery colors at Pentecost.

No? Why not? This a feast day like the others, yet most of us know very little about it. I’ll admit, I’m one of them.

But here we are, celebrating and remembering Jesus’ ascension to be with God. The event is named in the scriptures 3 times, two of them were read today from Luke and Acts. And it’s a core belief that Christians confess in the creeds.

  • Apostle’s Creed--I believe in Jesus Christ...who was crucified, died and was buried, on the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven.

  • Nicene Creed--On the third day he rose again, in accordance with the scriptures, he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God.           

We spend considerable time thinking about his life, death and resurrection, but Jesus leaving the disciples and floating up into the air? “That’s even more difficult to comprehend than the resurrection,” said one pastor at Tuesday’s Bible study.          

Rachel Held Evans, beloved theologian and blogger, wrote an open letter to Jesus a few years back and said, “Dear Jesus, what’s with the floating thing? After all the eating and drinking and healing and laughing and crying, it just doesn’t seem like your style—floating. I like you better with your feet on the ground. And I’ll be honest, Jesus, Ascension Day brings up some abandonment issues for me.”        

I wonder if the disciples felt abandoned too. Jesus was with them healing teaching and loving, then he’s crucified and buried in a tomb, then he’s alive again eating broiled fish and opening the scriptures to them for understanding, and then… gone again.

If you google images for ascension, you’ll find lots of interpretations of this event. Most of them have Jesus floating in the air just above the disciples, wearing a long white robe and radiating with golden light. But there is one image, by Salvador Dali, that’s quite different and stuck out to me. In this painting you can’t even see Jesus’ face or any of the disciples. Instead it’s as if you’re standing with the disciples looking up at Jesus’ feet dangling in the air.

Jesus’ feet are the most prominent part of the image. Those feet that walked all over the countryside. Those feet that led him to people in need of healing, learning and feeding. Those feet that led him to people in need of hope and justice. Those feet that walked with the disciples and that led them to new life and unexpected adventures.

And that’s where the book of Luke ends, with the disciples looking up toward heaven worshipping with great joy. But it turns out that with God every ending has a new beginning. Right there at the beginning of the next book, in Acts, the ascension story is told again, but this time as a beginning story not an ending one.  As the disciples stood there, gazing up toward heaven, two angels appear and ask, “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?”

In other words, stop looking up. It’s time to look out. What has ended has given way to something new that is just beginning.

I invite you to think of another image, with thanks to Pastor Heather Hinton who first brought it to my attention. Maybe you remember the movie Mary Poppins? At the end of the movie, she flies off into the sky held up by her enormous black umbrella. Now to be clear, I’m not saying that Mary Poppins is the same as Jesus. But stay with me here. The Banks family had been living in chaos and dysfunction, but after Mary Poppins’ time with them, the kids had been restored to a full and happy childhood. Mr Banks has found joy in being with his family again. What was once broken has been made whole.

As she floats into the sky, Mary Poppins gazes down at them with a gentle loving smile knowing that they don’t need her anymore. What has ended has given way to a new beginning.  

In the ascension, as Jesus is blessing the disciples he gazes down at them and knows they are ready to go on without him. He’s shown them God’s love for the whole world and sends them out to be witnesses of these things--love, justice, forgiveness, freedom.

As one blogger put it, “The absence of Jesus makes room for the possibility of his presence through his people.” In other words, stop looking up, and start looking out! What has ended has given way to a new beginning.

And so here we are, charged with being Christ’s body in the world. Called to be his eyes that notice those who are marginalized and oppressed. Called to be his laughter and joyous spirit with those who celebrate good news. Called to be his tears crying with those who suffer in anyway. Called to be his feet on the ground sharing his light and boundless love for everyone.

As we move from the Easter season to Pentecost, we pause for a moment on this feast day to celebrate the mystery of Christ’s ascension to be seated at the right hand of God. Jesus does not abandon us but empowers us through the Holy Spirit to be his body in the world. We are invited look for new beginnings, not dwell on the ending. Stop looking up to heaven to find the Holy One and start looking out. For Christ is among us now in bread and wine, and in this community, and in the love and light we share with others.  

As St. Theresa of Avila summed up in her beloved poem,

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.