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The Ascension of Our Lord                                                  May 8, 2016

This Weekend's Readings (click each reading to view the passage)

Acts 1:1-11Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Pr. Christine's Sermon: Dear Sugar,
Pr. Christine's Sermon: Dear Sugar,

Children's Sermon: Carrying the Baton
Children's Sermon: Carrying the Baton

Choir Anthem: God Is So Good to Me
Choir Anthem: God Is So Good to Me

Youth Handbell Choir: THis Joyful Eastertide
Youth Handbell Choir: This Joyful Eastertide

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Sermon Notes from Pastor Christine...

When I have to preach on the ascension of Jesus I typically tackle it with humor and focus on the ridiculousness of it all, pointing out the absurdity and bizarreness of it all. Just about every painting ever created of the ascension depicts Jesus suspended in the clouds with a supernatural glow about him or all you can see of Jesus are his feet dangling beneath the clouds of heaven as he passes from this world to the next. Grotesquely weird.
This absurdity actually brings me a great amount of comfort though, because if the ascension is difficult to capture in art, then why would it be any different in a sermon? It is an uncomfortably strange text which has often caused me to wonder, "Why?"
Why all the special effects and drama? It is true we can draw scholarly parallels between this cosmic event and the rapture of Elijah and the transfiguration. But that's just an intellectual exercise. What is the point of the ascension? Honestly. All this drama so the Holy Spirit can arrive on the scene? Doesn't really seem to fit in with Jesus' typical behavior and course of action.
Is there more to it than just a spectacular ending to an almost unbelievable resurrection story?
Even though I've preached on the ascension almost every year I've been a pastor, I've predominantly brushed it aside as one of those oddities in the bible, mostly because I couldn't quite see how my faith in Jesus grew by exploring it.
But this year was different.
Maybe it was happenstance, maybe it was coincidence, or maybe it was divine intervention, but this year a piece of the ascension [I believe a crucial piece] was unlocked for me through a most unexpected avenue.
An advice column.
I don't regularly read advice columns. As a matter of fact, I never do, but as I've mentioned to a few people recently, I just finished a book called, "Tiny beautiful things", and it is, as the title suggests, beautiful.
Not beautiful in a 'glowing, glimmering, otherly' kind of fashion.
Beautiful in a 'laying oneself bare, fearlessly and honestly before others' kind of fashion.
The entire book is comprised of letters written to an online advice columnist named 'Sugar'. It's filled with all those things people ask about when anonymity is guaranteed.
They write about, real life stuff. You know affairs, job failures, physical insecurities, lost dreams, grief, money troubles - pouring their hearts out to some unknown person they will never meet...
Which in and of itself is a little sad. But I inhaled the poignancy of their words, breathing them in like air for my soul.
Before I go on, if you decide to read this book because I mentioned it in a sermon, please know that it is full of harsh and vulgar language, probably more than is necessary. And it is not filled with feel good stories, but rather the crudeness and brokenness of life. Some of the letters will most likely appall you.
Sugar responds to each person with candor, truth, and humor.
And towards the end of the book, she unintentionally makes the most concise, theologically accurate, radiant explanation of the implications of the ascension of Jesus Christ I've ever read.
She writes this to a man, a former addict who is agonizing over his wife's drug relapse,
"The thing about rising is we have to continue upward. The thing about going beyond is we have to keep going."
I'm telling you, that is the BEST statement on the ascension I've ever heard.
Honestly, that's my whole sermon in 21 words, although I'm probably obligated to say more.
This reality she states answers the 'why' question of the ascension. It answers why Jesus ascended; it answers why this piece is crucial to the Easter story. It also answers why the ascension matters in my life; and it answers why it matters in your life.
Let me break it down a little bit...
Why did Jesus ascend?
Sugar's answer would be, "The thing about rising is we have to continue upward. The thing about going beyond is we have to keep going."
On that glorious Easter morning when Jesus was raised by God, He couldn't just not continue upwards. For Jesus to stay put would have meant for him to stagnate. Jesus wasn't meant to just rise one time; He was meant to continue rising, because the essence of His very life is resurrection, rising, ascending.
Jesus was so filled with spirit of resurrection that He had to keep going...onwards, upwards. Leaving the tomb was just the beginning.
The beginning for Jesus...
and the beginning for us.
At the heart of Christianity lives the verb 'rising'.  
Once, in a theological discussion on various foundations of different faiths, I had a professor in seminary say, "If we ever 'give up' the resurrection, we loose everything about Christianity." At that time I disagreed with her somewhat. My conception of what the resurrection meant surrounded Jesus' bodily resurrection on that Easter morning. I believed in that, and still do, but I thought, "Jesus showing up on Easter morning is NOT all there is to Christianity."
And it's not.
But that's not what she meant [I've learned a few things since my first semester of seminary]. She meant... we cannot ever give up on the truth that God promises to raise us from the grave, raise us from the ashes, raise us up from what ever devilish temptations come our ways.
Sugar is not Jesus.
In fact she states in the book that she doesn't believe in God in the classical sense, but her words... her words are so often Jesus' words.
I distinctly remember thinking, "God, if I could write like that, what I say might actually make a difference; might actually make people 'rise'; might actually make people ascend beyond themselves and their plights.
Because I'd read the letters and read her responses with tears in my eyes and laughter in my heart, and I'd think, 'Surely these people must 'rise,' they absolutely must rise from the situations they paint for this woman named Sugar... because her advice is so true, so honest, so spot on that I can't help but transcend my own 'stuff' for a moment.
I believe that the people who wrote to Sugar opted to transcend - to rise, to go beyond, to ascend - rather than continue to live within the same old tale.
And I choose to believe this not because Sugar is a gifted writer.
But rather because what she writes is Gospel truth.
She encourages people to live into the aftermath of the resurrection; live into the ascension.
Earlier I wondered out loud why all the drama and special effects were necessary to end Jesus' story... But this point in our text isn't how the story ends... it's simply where it takes a surprising turn.
The moment of Ascension is when the living beyond of oneself begins; the continuation of the resurrection.
And so, whether we've had an interesting, hilarious, tragic, or a lovely life... the surprising turns we may encounter aren't ever the ends, but rather the space where the Ascension begins. Jesus' disciples recognize that change is part of blessing.
We may grieve the changes and surprises which we encounter in life, and rightly so, however blessing comes not in the reception of good things in life, but rather the blessing is that the Spirit will not let us linger in the ashes, the tomb, or even in the glow of the rising.
Because, as Sugar would say, ""The thing about rising is we have to continue upward. The thing about going beyond is we have to keep going."
So, how would your letter begin?
Dear Sugar,
I'm writing you today because...
And no matter what words she used to respond the message would be Jesus' message:

Keep rising, keep going.

This is what your Ascension Day looks like.
Isn't it glorious?