Sermon 6/1/19: Not just welcoming...inviting.

Pr. Ben Adams

The Ascension of Our Lord

June 1, 2019

Not just welcoming... inviting.

Come and see, come and grow, come and serve. That was the tagline on the outside of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Vancouver, WA, the church that I served as an intern during seminary. And there are two reasons why that particular memory came to my mind this week.

It all started on Wednesday morning. I was in my Wednesday morning lectionary study preparing for this week’s sermon with my other female Episcopal colleagues that make up that group and as I read through the texts for this week, I just kept noticing the word come.  And between our first reading from Acts and our Second reading from Revelation, we hear the word come or some version of it, nine different times.

So as I thought about that repetitive invitational word come, I inevitably was brought back in my mind to the tagline from St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Vancouver, WA. Come and see, come and grow, come and serve.

A tagline that I very much still admire. Because when you break it down, there is an invitation for everyone in it. Whether you are new to church all together, there is an invitation to come and see, whether you’ve been around for a little while, there is an invitation to come and serve, and once you have experienced what a life of service is like, there is the invitation to come and grow.

In many ways, this simple tagline builds in depth and intensity. And that brings me to the second time this week that I was reminded of the come and see, come and grow, come and serve tagline. I was invited by Reverend Amity Carrubba, the Rector here at Grace Place, to lead their Wednesday lunchtime bible study and eucharist. In this bible study, they are making their way through Proverbs, so I was there to help them with Proverbs 10-15 which make up a section where the Proverbs are almost completely antithetical ones. Antithetic parallelism is a literary device that uses a contrast between two or more lines to teach us. So take Proverbs 10:1 that says, “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.”

I learned about this form of parallelism as I prepared myself for the bible study, but in my research I also learned about other forms of parallelism in the bible like synonymous parallelism says the same thing in different ways in order to convey its teaching. An example of this would be from the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:13 where it says, “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil” Two synonymous phrases right after each other to teach us.

But then there was this final form of parallelism that reminded me of the St. Andrew tagline. It’s called sythetic parallelism where successive lines build on the first line and intensify. A biblical example of this could be Proverbs 6:16-19 where it says, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family.” Talk about building intensity… sheesh. Ok maybe not the most pleasant verse to illustrate my example of synthetic parallelism, but you get the point. 

This kind of parallelism brought again to mind the come and see, come and serve, come and grow tagline because of the way in which it uses a parallel phrase three different times, but ever intensifies the invitation for us to go deeper with one another and with God. 

And I think that’s what church can be at it’s best, not just a welcoming church, but an inviting church. Because thoughtful invitations reflect how the love God works in our life. Just think about God’s love for a minute. It meets us in a place where we might be filled with doubt, insecurity, fear, sadness, or anger and it reminds us first and foremost that we are each good, we are enough, and we are not alone, but God’s love is not just welcoming because it doesn’t just leave it at that. God’s love invites us as well, first to know that we are loved, but then to share that love with others, by inviting them to know that love as well. We do this by inviting people come and we come along others to see God’s love in action, serve with a spirit of God’s love, and to grow in God’s love as it grows and spreads throughout the earth.  God’s love is something we cannot be separated from and it is contagious, overflowing and spreading into all the world, making us the people and the creation God is loving us into.

But even as we reflect on this invitation to come and experience God’s love, it seems almost at odds with the texts today as Jesus is not coming, but going.  Today we heard two different accounts in Luke and in Acts of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven.  And sometimes I think this story is a bit too real, where Jesus feels absent, withdrawn, gone from this place. 

There are even Orthodox traditions that fast for the Ten days between Jesus’ Ascension and Celebration of Pentecost when recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit coming down. And they fast to acknowledge and recognize this temporary absence of God. I think we’d all be lying if we were to say that we have never felt like God was absent from our life. Maybe then, the Ascension is an invitation for us to honestly name when and where Jesus has felt absent from our lives. Those times we have spent looking toward heaven pleading with God saying, “Come Lord Jesus!” The times when we have felt most alone from God.

But I love the part in the text from Acts when Jesus is being taken up and it says, “ While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

Why do you stand looking up toward Heaven? That quick distraction from our loneliness can be a way for us to bring our eyes back to normal and to refocus on where God is all around us, within us, in everything that we see, in everyone that we serve, and God is the creative force behind every bit that we grow.

We aren’t alone, separated from God. In fact, the Ascension of Jesus means that Jesus is not just in one physical place anymore, but Jesus is everywhere, with all of us, at all times.

This week coming up, we are going to be celebrating the life of a long-time member of the South Loop Community Table named Bill Radzik. He was witty, principled, and a tireless advocate for his fellow friends experiencing homelessness. Bill died back in March, by himself in the back of a car, on one of those deadly cold Chicago winter nights. 

My heart breaks for Bill and the way that he died in that car, and the way he was forced to survive in a cruel world where homelessness is normal. But then this week as I was writing this sermon and thinking about Bill, I remembered this gift he once gave me. Get ready for it, it’s called Jesus, sees us. Creepy right? I thought this was some kind of weird elf on the shelf kind of thing where Jesus is always there watching us whenever we do good, but especially when we do bad, but then I read the back and it says this, “You are so loved! Someone in your life couldn’t wait to share the good news about Jesus with you! This Jesus Sees Us doll is a reminder that Jesus Christ is always with you, guiding you and loving you every day. He will be by your side to help you through tough times and to celebrate your victories!”

Maybe this gift wasn’t so bad and creepy after all, and in a fun and inviting way, Bill was reminding me that Jesus is with me, loving me, at all times, in all places, and nothing can separate me from that love. Well Bill, right back at you, and thanks for all the ways you invited me to come and see, come and serve, come and grow in Christ’s love for myself and my neighbors.  In that way, Bill called the greatest potential out of us, to not just be welcoming, but inviting. May it be so. Amen.