Posted on Thu, Jun 9, 2011
Sermon for June 5, 2011
Bind Us Together
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
June 5, 2011
Today we celebrate the feast day of the Ascension. I wonder how much we know or understand about this feast day in the life of the liturgical church of which we are a part. Let’s “try on” some information that might be new to us and see where it leads us as we consider this morning’s sermon topic, “Bind Us Together.” Will you pray with me?
In the name of Jesus who has ascended to the high altars of our hearts and who has been exalted above his humble beginnings and painful execution, we embrace the power of God to lift us to our highest potential and to raise us above our fears, mistakes, regrets, and disappointments. We affirm heavenly blessings for our lives today, so may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you, O God. Alleluia! Amen. – (Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins)
My colleague, The Rev. Dr. Mona West writes that the Feast of Ascension was a custom developed by the church in the fourth century to mark a special feast of 40 days after Easter to celebrate the ascension of Christ. The feast was then followed by 10 days of rejoicing until Pentecost. Let’s be clear today, the Ascension is not a leaving but an empowering. It is a letting loose of the Divine nature into the world. The writer Thomas Keating claims, “This is the Christ who disappeared in his Ascension beyond the clouds, not into some geographical location, but into the heart of all creation. In particular he has penetrated the very depth of our being, our separate self sense has melted into his divine Person, and now we can act under the direct influence of his Spirit.”
In Acts 1:9 we read that a cloud took him out of their sight. Remember back in Psalm 68:33 where we read these wonderful words, “Rider of the ancient heavens; listen for the voice sent out.” One primary way we listen for this voice and a primary way we connect with the nature of Christ in the very depth of our being is through contemplative prayer and meditation, by entering the Cloud of Unknowing as 14th Century writers described it.
This Christ consciousness permeates all of reality and all of our lives. Even and perhaps especially the most difficult places of the world and our lives. Barbara Brown Taylor speaks of the traces of an old fresco in a bombed out church in Turkey that depicts the Ascension--half the face of Jesus with one eye and one arm raised in blessing. “It is Christ the Lord, still giving his blessing to a ruined church.” When we consider the presence of Christ or the Christ consciousness in our own lives, we come to understand that the experience of Christ binds us together. It is that aspect of our lives that keeps us together when we feel like falling apart. It is that energy that keeps us moving when we feel faint and want to give up. It is that Christ consciousness that assures us that we are part of a Divine plan to which we are called and for which we are empowered by the very presence of this presence of Christ in our own lives and in our communal lives together. It is this Christ consciousness that reminds us of who we are and of whose we are and the purposes for which our very beings are created. It is this Christ consciousness that binds us together and will not allow us to come undone.
Some artistic images of the Ascension feature the feet of Jesus. The feet are the last things the disciples see. Wendy Wright ponders that feet are the part of the body most connected to the earth and they are also the sign of love and service Jesus leaves for the disciples when he washes their feet at the last supper.
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins asks a good question, “Ascended to where?!?” He writes “The story of the Ascension comes from a time when the world was thought to be flat. The “up” and “down” symbolism of the story fits with ancient cosmology that was geocentric rather than heliocentric and that assumed that not only was the earth cosmically central, but it was also flat and “above” it was a celestial/spiritual realm. In a world that was thought to be flat and situated below a divine city-state at a time before gravity was understood, “rising” to a world “above” would not have been as problematic as it might be for contemporary thinkers today.”
However, another word for “ascension” used in the New Testament is “exaltation”. I want to suggest to you that The Ascension might be a euphemism for Jesus being exalted in the hearts of his followers and in the shared understanding of the Christian community. I have been preaching for several weeks now that the presence of God in our lives lifts US up when we’re down and gives US the strength to carry on when times are tough. And maybe, just maybe the ascension shows us the moment when Jesus is lifted up into the hearts of God’s people. Perhaps this is the time when Jesus enters our hearts. This is the beginning of the time when Jesus becomes available to revolutionize our lives, to give us direction, to set us on our way and to bind us together for a Divine purpose that God has planted in our souls. This is a Divine purpose for which Jesus comes to live in our hearts and maybe this morning that is the purpose for this feast day of the Ascension; for Jesus to come into our hearts all over again, to set us on the path to which we’ve been called, to guide us along the way, to empower us at moments of spiritual lethargy, and to energize us for the work ahead. Isn’t that wonderful news for us this morning. It means we can do it and we will do it in the good times, in the bad times and even in the long hot days of summer. Why, because Jesus has ascended into our hearts and minds and souls and having experienced the presence of God’s beloved in our hearts, we cannot keep silent, we cannot turn around because we’ve come too far to turn back now. The presence of God through Jesus binds us together in ways that we will never come undone.
Jesus blesses with his hands and leaves us with the image of his feet. Dr. West writes, “This reminds me of that wonderful prayer from St. Teresa: Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks at the world with compassion. Yours are the feet with which Christ goes about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses us now.”
I am reminded of that wonderful passage of scripture from the Hebrew Bible book of Isaiah, chapter 52, verse 7, which reads, How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ And I’ve come here to tell you that you’re feet are beautiful, too. When you live into the calling God has placed on your life, you become more beautiful every day. Your light shines with the light of God’s presence. Your steps become lighter as you experience the joy of your salvation. Your sorrows become half-sorrows as you live into the fact that you never walk alone. Your joys double as they are shared with your sisters and brothers in Christ. Your world improves and while it never becomes nirvana, it gets better and your attitude about it becomes brighter as you come to understand that you are called for a purpose, bound together by the presence of the holy child of God who has ascends this day and every day into the core our your heart and mind and spirit and will never leave or forsake you. We, all of us are bound together in Christ who calls us to this place for a purpose, to fulfill the missio dei – the mission of God to be an outpost of the kin-dom of God in Gainesville. We are bound together for a divine purpose. That is good news for us this morning. We are heirs to a high calling to be bound together with each other and to be bound together by the very presence of the Divine in our own lives. So I say, this morning, “Bind us together, God. Bind us together with cords that cannot be broken. Bind us together as the family of God, bind us together as God’s own desire, bind us together and make us the people you have called us to be. Bind us together in the name of Jesus who lives in us today and tomorrow. Bind us together.
God bless you today. AMEN.