Saturday, 4 June 2011

Something to stand on

Readings: Acts 1 v1-14

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Those accounts of Jesus’ ascension into heaven,
where we read of Jesus being “caught up in a cloud”
stirred something in me this week.
We live in a part of the world where we see a fair bit of clouds.
But not just the all too familiar rain clouds.
We see all sorts of patterns  and formations of clouds, some of them unique to our position in this part of the world.
I don’t know as much as I should about the why’s of the particular clouds we see but I am fascinated by them. I love to imagine pictures in the clouds or, quite simply, just admire the intricate patterns woven in the sky.
And as I read this passage from Acts about Jesus ascending into a cloud, other cloud images from the bible 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” was witnessed by the Israelites far below.

In the wilderness, often, when God appeared to Moses in a tent of meeting, a pillar of cloud covered the entrance to the tent.

When Jesus was transfigured on a mountain top, in the presence of some of his disciples, a cloud obscured Jesus and the disciples with him 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.
Moments of significance somehow too bright to be witnessed except under cover of cloud.

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 spoke of it before his death and after his resurrection.
Jesus took pains to prepare them as best he could for what lay ahead.

He’d warned the disciples that he couldn’t remain with them but
had promised them that they would not be alone – that
he would send his Spirit.

And next Sunday, that is what we will celebrate –
Pentecost, the coming of God’s Spirit.

But, first of all, let’s celebrate the ascension of our Lord.
Let’s imagine the perspective of Jesus disciples as they saw their Lord disappear into the clouds.
How must they have felt?
How do you feel on those days when your life seems overshadowed by clouds?
Is that a familiar place for you?
Is it  a comforting place or a disturbing place?

“Being caught up in the clouds” can bring joy – it can
also bring terror.

The joy of anticipation.
Or the terror of unknowing.

Are the clouds that inhabit our lives a shadow?
Or do they signal a passage to a brighter place?
What was going on in the hearts and minds of the disciples as they saw Jesus being taken from them – again!
And is it any wonder that they stood and stared?
Until they were challenged to get on with their lives.
A timely intervention.

And maybe the words spoken to the disciples as they continued
to watch the sky are also 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?

Words for all of us today.
When we’re left wondering.
When we’re frightened.
When we want to be sure.

It is so tempting when we’re in a place of uncertainty, to simply do nothing.
Sometimes it seems the safest option.
And so 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.

Following Jesus 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

Faith encourages us to soar with the risen Christ, to ride
the thermals.
One of my favourite books was 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.

But Jonathan Livingston Seagull was an individual who 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.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull dared to dream.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull spent his days learning to fly – 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 in fact 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
Movers and shakers, those who are innovative, are often
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.

Shouldn’t there be – might there 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 Jonathan Livingston Seagull is this:

"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  - Go to people everywhere and make disciples – 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
To soar with the ascended Christ – caught up in the clouds,
transformed by mystery and possibility.
Finding new ground on which to stand or being taught to fly.

Let me share with you a meditation I wrote for Ascension:

He left them to it
and went back to the Father
Gave them the great commission
and then took off
as only Jesus could
took off
in a cloud of glory
leaving the disciples
wallowing in a cloud of confusion
and today
millennia on
it seems we're still
surrounded by clouds
covered in confusion
not sure of what's next
And so, once more
Christ commissions us
into all the world
make disciples
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
no contingency
and I
are it.
and make disciples.
We've been tagged.

Let’s be willing to learn to fly – for the glory of God. Amen


Stephanie Anthony/She Rev said...

I love the image in your meditation at the end - - "Tag! You're it!"

I think Jonathan Livingston Seagull works beautifully here, too. Makes me want to go back and read the story again. It's been years - - 8th grade English was probably it! I put it on my iPad several months ago and read some of it during my daughter's dance classes. Now I need to finish it.

Dot said...

Amazing message~thankyoux I'm off to dust my feathers:~)x

Danny said...

Thanks for this Liz, you have inspired this Sunday's sermon and a manse letter - a valuable public service :)