Sunday, 21 May 2017

May 21, 2017

Ascension of Jesus - Easter 6

Ascension of Jesus – Easter 6

May 21, 2017

Matthew 28:16-20


Being an old guy, I’m fond of the classic composers; Bach, Beethoven, Chopin.  One of the more recent composers is a songwriter and performer named Paul Simon.  He’s written many popular songs.  One of those songs is a ballad that tugs at a person’s heartstrings.  Perhaps you’ve heard it.  It’s called, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover”.


The song does not, in fact, list fifty ways.  Instead it repeats only a few several times.  The ways to leave your lover that are mentioned are:


Slip out the back, Jack.
Make a new plan, Stan.
You don’t need to be coy, Roy.
Just listen to me.
Hop on the bus, Gus.
You don’t need to discuss much.
Just drop off the key, Lee,
And get yourself free.


That is an interesting list.  I’m sure there are many other ways to leave a lover, perhaps more than fifty.  One that almost no one would mention would be, “Ascend into heaven, Kevin . . . or Jesus.”


I’m not sure the word “lovers” is the best way to describe our relationship with Jesus, but we know that he does, indeed, love us.  And Jesus did need to leave, at least physically.


We’re almost to the end of the Easter season.  We’ve been celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.  He had been crucified.  He was dead.  But then on Easter morning his tomb was empty and he was back from the dead. For forty glorious days Jesus kept appearing and disappearing, sharing the good news that, through his death and resurrection, sin and death had been defeated.  Because of Jesus we have forgiveness, the promise of life beyond death and the guarantee of never ending love.


In our lesson today, Jesus is about to make his return to the heavenly kingdom.  He has gathered his disciples on a mountain.  The lesson tells us that some, when they saw Jesus, worshiped him, as well they should.  It also said that some doubted.  Even though it had been forty days, it was still hard to believe that Jesus could have died and come back to life.


Then Jesus shared his last words.  There are two parts.  The first part is a directive.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”


Baptism is the sign of connection. Becoming a disciple starts with a connection.  With water and the Word, baptism confirms the promise of a relationship of love with God that will never end.  We know we are his children.  So, as instructed, we baptize.


And we teach.  Now I’m sure we can find many statements of Jesus that may sound like commands.  But the summary of his commands is simple.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” The idea is quite simple. The application is not easy. 


There are so many things that call for our time, attention and energy.  God knows that our lives and the world we live in go well when we focus on love.  God knows that our lives and the world around us end up troubled when love is ignored.


Baptize and teach his commands. That’s the first portion of Jesus’ parting words.  The second part is a promise. 


It’s perhaps simplistic, but our parting words can perhaps be broken down into two categories.  The first is the thought that we will see each other again.  In Spanish you can say, “Hasta la vista”.  In French you can say, “Au revoir”.   In English we say, “Ta ta for now” or “See you later.”  (Or “Smell you later” if you’re a Simpson’s fan.)


The second parting word option links the person we are leaving with God.  In Spanish you can say, “Adios”.  In French you can say, “Adieu”.   In English, “Good-bye” comes from the words, “God be with ye”.    There is great comfort in knowing those we love, while leaving us, do not lose their connection with God.


But Jesus has a different parting thought.  He says, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  He wants us to know that, even though we can’t see him, he is and will be with us until we come together again with him.


That may not always be good news.   There are times when it may be more than a little uncomfortable knowing that Jesus knows our thoughts, words and actions.  We know that we don’t live up to his standards.


But the promise of his presence with us can give comfort more than anything else we have.  Sometimes the promise that Jesus is with us is ALL we have.


And there’s a song about that.  And this is the traditional time to share it.


By John Ylvisaker

I was there to hear your borning cry,
I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold.
I was there when you were but a child,
with a faith to suit you well;
In a blaze of light you wandered off
to find there demons dwell.”

“When you heard the wonder of the Word
I was there to cheer you on;
You were raised to praise the living Lord,
to whom you now belong.
If you find someone to share your time
and you join your hearts as one,
I’ll be there to make your verses rhyme
from dusk ‘till rising sun.”

“In the middle ages of your life,
not too old, no longer young,
I’ll be there to guide you through the night,
complete what I’ve begun.
When the evening gently closes in,
and you shut your weary eyes,
I’ll be there as I have always been
with just one more surprise.”

I was there to hear your borning cry,
I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
To see your life unfold.


I’m not sure how many ways there are to leave those we love.  I do know that we never lose our connection.  Jesus promises that he is with us always and means we’re connected though our connection with him.  And the connection is even stronger when we remember our baptism and follow his command of love. AMEN