Friday, 2 May 2008

Learning to fly

Those familiar accounts of Jesus’ ascension into heaven,
where we read of Jesus being “caught up in a cloud”
stirred something in me this week. As I read them, other
cloud images came into my head:

Many important biblical events seemed to happen under cover of clouds:
When Moses met with God on Mount Sinai, cloud covered
the mountain and the “devouring fire of God” could be seen
by onlookers far beneath.
Sometimes God appeared to Moses in a tent of meeting
when a pillar of cloud covered the entrance to the tent.
And sometimes, after meeting with God, Moses had to
cover his face because it was so bright – meeting with God
changed his appearance.

In the gospels, when we read the account of the
transfiguration, Jesus’ face seems to be changed in a
similar manner to that of Moses.
At that time, a cloud obscured Jesus and the disciples
with him on that mountain from the folk waiting below.
A voice from the cloud said: This is my son – listen to him.
Reminiscent of Jesus baptism when its not so much a cloud
that is manifest but an opening of the Heavens with doves
appearing and a voice saying: This is my own dear son, with
whom I am pleased.

Moments of mystery and moments of clarity.
Brightness and obscurity.

And so to today’s Ascension accounts.
As the disciples watched, Jesus was taken up to heaven
and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Jesus had spent quite some time teaching his disciples,
getting them ready for this moment when he must leave them.
He’d warned them that he couldn’t remain with them and
had promised them that they would not be orphans –
that he would send his Spirit.
And next Sunday, that is what we will celebrate –
Pentecost, the coming of God’s Spirit.

But, meantime, lets meet with God in the clouds.
Perhaps a familiar place for you –
perhaps comforting, perhaps daunting.
For “being caught up in the clouds” can bring joy –
it can also bring terror.
The joy of anticipation.
Or the terror of unknowing.
Maybe the words spoken to the disciples as they continued
to watch the sky are timely words for us today:
“Why are you standing there looking up at the sky? This
Jesus who was taken from you into heaven will come back
in the same way you saw him go.”

Why are you standing there looking up at the sky?

Timely words for all of us.
When we’re not sure.
When we’re frightened.
When we want to be sure.
We often do nothing.
Its much safer that way.
We stand and look into the sky.
Looking for divine inspiration or assurance or something
that will convince us.
We want certainties, not risk.
And what Jesus reveals again and again is that God’s
kingdom is a kingdom of risks.
A kingdom that cries out for risk takers.
For only those willing to take risks can daringly follow the
one who rides the clouds.

Why are you standing there looking into the sky?
When its time to act.

Much has been written about religion being used to control
the masses, about religion – and the guilt it induces and
the power it abuses being used to impose social control.
That may well be true of religion.
But it is not true of faith.
Because faith does not impose any kind of control.
Faith, rather, compels folk to take risks, to throw away
the rules and the need to conform -and be different.
Because at the heart of faith is the willingness to trust
the one who came to make all things new, the one who was
taken up in the clouds and who will return the same way.
The one who gives us freedom to do a new thing, to try a new way.
To leave our tradition behind and risk living our lives in the
clouds, transformed by the presence of God in our everyday.
Faith encourages us to soar with the risen Christ, to ride the thermals.

Have you ever heard of a book, written by Richard Bach in
the 70s, called Jonathan Livingston Seagull?
Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a book about a very
independent bird, who dared to question what was being
taught and told to him by the elders passing on the
tradition by which they had always lived.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull didn't just want to spend his
days searching for food and hanging out doing what was
expected of him like all the other birds - he was different.
He dared to dream.

Jonathan Livingston seagull spent his days learning to fly
faster and better than any other gull in the flock.
And he learned from all of his searching and trying that he
could do anything.
If he wanted it badly enough, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
would go for it – he would take a risk – and he would
accomplish what he had set out to do.
Of course, this made him unpopular with the rest of the flock.
Movers and shakers, those who are innovative, are often despised.
Folk who won’t conform are often shunned.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull was cast out from the flock.
Yet he knew a different way of life to which none of the
others would ever aspire.
There should be a freedom and a daring like that for us in
the church. An unwillingness to settle for what has “aye
been”. The imagination to do things differently.
Even if it upsets folk.
Our calling is to take risks, to take hold of the power that
our ascended Lord promised us before leaving.
One of my favourite quotes from the book says:

"When you come to the edge of all the light you have
known, and are about to step out into darkness, Faith is
knowing one of two things will happen There will be
something to stand on, or you will be taught to fly."

Something to stand on or being taught to fly.

The ascension of our Lord was a time of moving on, of
passing on the baton to us his followers.
Not so we would stand around wondering what we would do with it.
But so that we would take faith to the ends of the earth.
That great commission demands innovation, involves taking
risks and encourages us to soar.
It involves all of us moving on in our faith.
From the safety of where we are at – to risking the unknown.
To soar with the ascended Christ – caught up in the clouds,
transformed by mystery and possibility.
Let’s learn to fly – for the glory of God. Amen

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