Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 13, 2018

2018.05.13 “When It’s Time to Say Goodbye” – Luke 24: 44-53; Acts 1: 1 – 11

Central United Methodist Church
When It’s Time to Say Goodbye
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 24: 44-53; Acts 1: 1 – 11
Ascension Sunday/Mother’s Day
May 13, 2018

Jesus Rio web

Then Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” – Luke 24: 44 – 53, The New Revised Standard Version

As Adam said to Eve as they were leaving the Garden of Eden: “My dear, I think we’re entering a time of transition.” It is that time of year when many are in transition. It is the season of graduations, weddings, and retirements, as well as the season when leases are up, so some people are also moving, me and my family being among them, although not because our lease is up.

Day by day, it’s becoming more real that our congregation is in a time of transition, as we prepare to switch from me as pastor, to Rev. Timothy Biel Jr. as your pastor. My head spins these days, as we make decisions about details and begin to sort and pack, in preparation for the monstrous job of moving. Movers and contractors have been contacted, and the two transition Sundays, June 17th and 24th have been booked, after my last service and sermon on June 10th. I finally had the brilliant idea I’ve been waiting for (for months!) and booked the author and speaker Jane Rubietta for those two Sundays, who is going to do a two-sermon series on – guess what? – transition!

For those of us in transition – and given the circumstances that would be all of us – it can be an anxious and stressful time. A few years back I pointed out the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, and this is an appropriate time to mention it again. The Holmes and Rahe Stress scale was devised in 1967, as a way of putting a point score to stressful life changes, in regard to how they affect illness. For example, on a list of 40 life changes, here are the first six:

Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Detention in jail 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50

[To see the complete Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, see here).

What you do is take note of the events on the scale that have occurred in your life during the last calendar year and add up the total number of points. In any given year, regardless of your stress level, you start off with a ten percent chance of going into a hospital within a two-year period. If you score between 150 and 200 points, your vulnerability for a serious illness within a two-year period increases to approximately 50 percent; if you score over 300 points, your chances rise to 80 percent. So just remember that any time we make a major move (like me and my family and Pastor Tim and his family are about to do) and change our location, our house, our church, our job, and our friends all at the same time, the stress scale says we might also just as well call ahead and reserve a hospital room. Fortunately, I’ll be living near Lutheran General, so I can just crawl over.

After all the anticipation and preparation for leaving, the time finally comes when we actually have to say goodbye. (Not forever, hopefully, just in regard to my time as your pastor). I’m not looking forward to that moment any more than you are (except for those few who saying, “Is that guy still here?”) A church consultant, Roy Oswald, once compared saying goodbye to running through thistles. If you have to run through thistles, it’s painful and something you want to get over with as quickly as possible. However, in the case of pastors leaving churches, it’s not something you want to do as quickly and painlessly as possible, as that only causes more problems than it solves.

It is such a moment today – that time when Jesus said goodbye to his disciples – that is portrayed in today’s readings, on this Ascension Sunday. Ascension Day is celebrated in the church 40 days after Easter, which falls on a Thursday, but since none of us are here on Thursday, we celebrate it on Sunday. It is of course also another minor festival known as Mother’s Day, so today we are exalting Jesus, and mothers; not to the same degree, but for some of us, almost!

I have to say this year I am finding many parallels in Jesus’ going-away story. “I’m going away; where I am going you cannot come. But wait here, and you will receive the promise of the Bishop (the Rev. Timothy Biel Jr.) not many days hence.”

I would be the first to admit that – even apart from the universal and timeless difficulty of saying goodbye – for us moderns, the accounts of Jesus’ ascension are difficult to comprehend. Only Luke tells the story, and he tells it twice, at the end of Luke’s Gospel and again at the beginning of Acts, both of which were written by Luke. In both, Jesus floats upward, toward heaven, which is where people in that time and place thought God resided, in the heavens. Whenever I read it, it reminds me of that scene in the Wizard of Oz where the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion wave goodbye to Dorothy as she rises from the Emerald City in a hot air balloon, saying “No place like home!” (Wonder if this is where L. Frank Baum got the idea?)

The late Biblical scholar William Barclay, once said about artistic depictions of the Ascension: “No one has ever succeeded in painting a picture of the Ascension which was anything other than grotesque and ridiculous.” Which is true: if you google “Ascension” you will see paintings and pictures of Jesus (like this one by the Spanish artist Rafael) looking like Mary Poppins, as if gravity has just been suspended, and he keeps levitating into the air.

And yet, as difficult as it is for us to understand, I’ve always believed the story of Jesus’ Ascension important. Because, first, practically, it answers the question any perceptive child might ask: “If Jesus rose from the dead and is alive, “Where is he?” “Can I go see him?” The answer is no, because Jesus is now no longer physically on earth, confined to one time and place, but now with God, exalted to the highest place, accessible in every time and place.

But secondly, in a literary sense. After all, how do you end a story about someone risen from the dead? You can’t have him riding off into the sunset, Lone Ranger style, with his disciples asking, “Who was that bearded man?” You can’t have him slip on a magic ring like Frodo in Lord of the Rings and disappear from sight, without explanation. You can’t have him die at the end of the story, because he has done that already, defeating death. And so he ascends, toward heaven, symbolizing his return to God.

Finally, thirdly, theologically, Jesus’ resurrection would have no meaning without his Ascension; they are two different ways of describing to the same thing. The point of Jesus’ resurrection was not that he experienced a resuscitation, like some kind of zombie come back to life, still wandering around somewhere out there. Rather, the point is that because of who he was and what he did, God raised him up from the lowest place to the highest place, where God is. From there, with immutable scars in his hands and side, he reigns in love, and even though we cannot see him or even imagine where that place might be and what it looks like, even though there is no argument or instrument on earth with which we can “prove it,” we believe that from there he reigns, depending upon us to bring forth his kingdom forth on earth. And we pray that, when we die, God will receive us, that wherever he is, we might be with him.

Yes, it is hard to understand and comprehend, but when we put these things into the context of our own life experiences, it can help us understand, not only the difficulty of saying goodbye, but how, even in absence, there is presence.

When I was growing up, my family, like most of our families, was scattered all over the country. My Uncle Donald and his family, my cousins, lived in Detroit, MI, and Aunt Martha and her family lived in Frankfort, KY. Whenever they would come to visit we would enjoy it, but then would come the time for them to go home and for us to say goodbye. It seemed to me that I spend a large part of my childhood saying goodbye. It would start in the house, then move out into the yard for another round, and then we would stand around the car and watch them get in, not buckling their seat-belts because seat-belts hadn’t been invented. (Maybe if Jesus had got into a 1957 Chevy and driven off into the sunset, it would make a lot more sense to us.) In the final scene, as they drove away, we would stand in the yard and wave, until they disappeared from sight.

Finally, I was the one who went away, and they would be the ones left behind. The time came when I would leave with tears in my eyes, because I knew the day was coming when they would no longer be there to wave goodbye. That day came, and now, whenever I remember them, I don’t do it so much with sadness, as with joy and gratitude for them, as the one left behind to carry on their legacy, as we now hope our children and grandchildren will do for us. Yet even though they are gone from me and from mortal life – they are – in a very real way, still with me, as your loved ones are with you.

After saying goodbye, Jesus’ disciples returned to Jerusalem without him, knowing that though he was absent in the old way, he was present in a new way. Like them, now in our time and our lives, let us continue his work on earth, exalting him in our hearts and honoring him with our lives. Amen.

 

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