“There Is More!” Luke 24:44-53; Revelation 21:10; 22-22:5. Donald W. Dotterer, May 26, 2019.
One of the more interesting shows on television is How It’s Made. The show’s host walks the viewing audience through the process of how things we use every day are made. The program demonstrates how such common items as soap, bubblegum, matches, pinball machines, laptop computers, ballpoint pens and a multitude of other products are manufactured. You can see some of the episodes on YouTube How It’s Made shows how the process begins and all the various parts that have to come together into the finished product. The show gives us a glimpse of something that is a mystery, or at least something that we haven’t given much thought to. As Denise Anderson says, once you see how a ballpoint pen is made, you will never look at one the same way again. That simple pen becomes a thing of wonder.”[i]
The question the show How It’s Made raises is this—if the manufacturing of a ballpoint pen is as thing of wonder, how much more of a wonder is the nature and being of the God who revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ, the God who is the creator and sustainer of this vast and glorious universe in which have the privilege of living.
There are many passages in the Bible that communicate to us that sense of awe, wonder, and mystery of God. There are first of all the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2, when God created the world and everything in it, including man and woman. The great philosopher Immanuel Kant said that there are two proofs of God’s existence—the starry skies above and the moral law within. I find it hard to argue with that, and indeed that is all the proof of God’s existence that I need.
For example, the planet hunting telescope named Kepler was retired last fall by NASA after nearly ten years in orbit. What it found is amazing. Kepler discovered 2,663 new planets we didn’t know about. That telescope showed us that there are more planets than stars in our galaxies. Some of those planets may be able to support life.
What a glorious, magnificent universe we live in! And what a glorious and magnificent Creator it took to make all this. The Bible is full of stories revealing the wonder, creative power and mystery of Almighty God just on this earth. There is the powerful story of the parting of the Red Sea that allowed Moses and the Hebrew people to march to freedom in the Promised Land. In the gospels we have the Virgin Birth, the Transfiguration of Jesus in light and glory on the mountaintop, and most amazing of all, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on Easter Day.
Today have another one of those mysterious stories in which we stand in awe and wonder. It is the account of the ascent of Jesus into heaven forty days after his resurrection. This event marks the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. At the same time it marks the time when Jesus’ disciples need to accept the responsibility of moving Jesus’ ministry forward and to bring the gospel to the world.
It is, of course, an enormous calling and task. But Jesus has promised the disciples that they will not be alone in this work. Jesus has given the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit to help them in all that they do.So there is a serious message here. But a lot of people over the course of time have found this a hard story to accept and believe in. Artists have portrayed Jesus soaring into heaven with his feet pointed downward like a dancer’s. Other artists show his feet dangling down, and the disciples trying to hang onto him, the disciples reaching up, stretching themselves toward the ascending Jesus.[ii]
For me, that’s the mystery part. So like these other mysteries of the Bible, we need to try and figure out what the meaning is, because that’s the purpose of these stories that are full of wonder and mystery. They are meant to communicate a spiritual truth, a truth that tells us that there is more than we can know and understand about this wonderful world in which God has blessed us with life.
We need these stories to remind us how great and wonderful the world really is. They can be the answer the question, “What is the purpose and meaning of life?” They remind us that there is something more than the physical life we experience in our day-to-day existence on this earth.
There are important clues here that help us to understand what is going on with The Ascension. First of all, we read in this gospel lesson that Jesus “opened their minds” to understand the scriptures.” He opened their minds so that they could understand the mystery of his suffering, death and resurrection.
That’s important. Jesus is saying that the future of his mission and ministry depends upon the minds of his followers being opened to the real truth of the scriptures. Jesus won’t leave them until their minds are opened to the incredible possibilities that he, Jesus, as the Son of God, represents.
And what are those possibilities? Jesus represents a world shaped by repentance, forgiveness, and most of all the love of God.[iii] Those who lack faith, those who resist repentance, forgiveness and God’s love, are living with closed minds.
We are called then to allow Jesus to open our minds so that we can see the tremendous possibilities that lie before us if we can just move forward in faith. That means, I think, is that we need to be open to doing mission and ministry differently, as did Jesus and the apostles. It means that we need to try new things and not be afraid of failing. Over the years at our churches we’ve done that, and we are seeing the fruits of that now. I pray that you will continue to do that when I am gone. I pray that you will continue to approach ministry with open minds, that you will not be afraid to try new things and to do things differently, because there is so much more to do here.
It is interesting to note that in the Bible, God and his servants lift things up, they don’t bring things down. In the book of Numbers, when the children of Israel are afflicted with snake bites in the wilderness because of their sinfulness in complaining against God, what did Moses do? Do you remember?Moses made a bronze serpent. He lifts it up. And all who raised their eyes to look at it were healed (Numbers 21:9). Jesus makes reference to this story of Moses lifting up the serpent for healing when he tells the Pharisee Nicodemus. Jesus says so also he (Jesus) must also be lifted up (John 3:14). Jesus is lifted up on the cross, the act that brought salvation to the world.
And that I believe is what is so important about the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. God lifts Jesus up. And Jesus lifts those who believe in him up as well. We, in turn, are called to lift up others.
St. Paul also talks about this in a familiar passage from his letter to the Colossians. Paul writes, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with God” (3:1-3).
In our reading from Revelation today, the author John says that he is “carried” away to a high mountain. from which he can see the holy city of Jerusalem. It was a city of light, a place with no darkness. John had been lifted up so that he could see a vision of heaven.The message is clear. People of faith are people who are on the rise. The Psalmist wrote, “I lift mine eyes to the hills, from whence does my help come, my help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth” (121:1-2). Christians are people of faith who are being lifted up to God. We rise with the morning sun to pray. We lift holy hands to heaven. We offer our prayers up to God. We are moving towards God above us. And we in turn are called to lift up other people.
That is what should make Christians different from other people. Perhaps there is nothing more that people in this world need mmore than to be lifted up. Because the world is very good at tearing people down, isn’t it? Most people live in a constant sea of negativity, at home, at school and at work.
There are many people out there who never hear a kind or supportive or encouraging word. They hear themselves called stupid and worthless and losers. It is no coincidence that the traditional thinking about hell is that it is the place that is “down there.”
And there are a lot of people who are living in a hell on earth. You may well know some of those people. It is shocking how many people right here in Beaver County have overdosed on drugs. Nationally, The Centers for Disease Control reports that the suicide rate is the highest it has been in 50 years. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of ten and thirty-four, and the fourth leading cause for middle-aged Americans. More middle aged white men take their lives than any other group.
The number of suicides combined with the number of deaths from drug and alcohol abuse has led to a drop in overall life expectancy in the United States. Experts call them “deaths of despair.” Another characteristic of modern life in America today is loneliness. That too is getting worse as people grow more isolated in a digital world and so many are unable to put down roots because they have to move around so much. Clearly then people need to be lifted up. It’s no joke. It really is a matter of life and of death. People need to be lifted up. We are called by God to do that. Christians are witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ. And our church should be a beacon of light and hope to people who struggle with life. Because what we have to offer then is relationships, relationships with God, and friendships with other people. Tomorrow is of course Memorial Day. Already. Can you believe it? Memorial Day is a day for picnics and relaxation. The swimming pools open up. It’s the official kickoff of the summer season.
Some of us are old enough to remember when Memorial Day was called Decoration Day. Decoration Day originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. In 1868, General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers.Many Americans today continue to observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and planting flowers on the graves of loved ones. So Memorial Day, like All Saints Day in November, is a day to remember and give thanks for those who have now passed on.
One of things I like to do, especially around Memorial Day and All Saints Day, is to read obituaries in the newspaper. I actually find them inspiring. Obituaries remind us that the end is coming for all of us, and that it matters how we live, because we all have a shelf life of around 80 years, more or less. The average life expectancy in America is now 78 years.
One of the more interesting obituaries I’ve read in a while was carried in last Wednesday’s paper. It was that of a man I had never heard of, a fellow named Edwin Drummond who died at the relatively young age of 73. The cause was pneumonia; he also had Parkinson’s. But what Mr. Drummond did with those 73 years! Edwin Drummond’s father was a post office employee; his mother a domestic worker. He did ordinary work to support himself. His son said that he “almost” made a living working as a fireman, painter and decorator, lumberjack, steeplejack and teacher. But it was what Mr. Drummond did in his spare time that left his mark on the world. Edwin Drummond was a world class mountain climber, and he used those talents to call attention causes that he thought were important. It is obvious, of course, that climbing is about moving up. In Mr. Drummond’s case, he moved up metaphorically as well as literally. Edwin Drummond climbed the most difficult peaks in Europe. He almost died climbing the Troll Wall in Norway, the tallest vertical rock face in Europe, 3500 feet high. He once scaled the Nose of El Capitan, the 3,000 foot high sheer granite cliff in Yosemite National Park as if it were a ladder. Most famously, Mr. Drummond scaled landmarks to call attention to the need for social justice. He once climbed Nelson’s Column in London to protest apartheid in South Africa. Most famously, he once climbed the Statue of Liberty to protest what he believed was the unjust incarceration of a black man. In his later years Mr. Drummond worked with the United Nations to develop an event called “Climb for the World” that raised money for environmental awareness and universal human rights. Although you may not agree with his politics, one cannot deny that Edwin Drummond left his mark on the world by calling attention to injustice.[iv]
So what will it be for us, friends? There is more, more to life than food and shelter, making a living and having fun. How are we spending the spare time God has given us on this earth? For what will we be remembered on Memorial Days to come? Will we be remembered for lifting people up or tearing them down? Each one of us has gifts to share, gifts with which we can serve Christ, the church and God’s world. Let us promise God today that we will do so.
May God’s richest blessings be upon you as you serve God in your life. Thanks be to God, Amen.
[i] Denise Anderson, The Christian Century, 1/30/19, p.9.
[ii] Terie McDowell Ott, The Christian Century, May 7, 2019
[iii] Terie McDowell Ott, The Christian Century, May 7, 2019
[iv] New York Times, 5/22/19, B11.