Following Jesus’ Dreams

On May 28, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Following Jesus’ Dreams Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Ascension Sunday 2017 It is the function of healthy religion to lift us up. Ascension is the goal and purpose of shared faith. The power of faith to lift us up is illustrated in various sacred stories. In the Hebrew bible a whirlwind takes the prophet Elijah into […]

Following Jesus’ Dreams
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Ascension Sunday 2017

It is the function of healthy religion to lift us up. Ascension is the goal and purpose of shared faith.

The power of faith to lift us up is illustrated in various sacred stories.

In the Hebrew bible a whirlwind takes the prophet Elijah into the heavens. And since Elijah ascended to another level of being without dying, a legend soon developed that he would one day return. As he ascended, his spirit fell upon his disciple, Elisha. The rising, returning prophet whose spirit empowered disciples would be borrowed later by the Jesus Movement.

In Catholic theology, or more precisely, Mariology, the Blessed Mother of Jesus is said to have been assumed, body and soul, into heavenly glory.

And, today, we heard the story of the ascension of the Lord Jesus.

We may not be able to accept the stories as literal history but that in no way diminishes the spiritual truth the stories offer.

The stories each show an enlightened or blessed soul ascending to higher possibilities as if to illustrate that the spiritual life can lift us up to experience more of God and therefore to be able to share more of God’s goodness with our world.

The three things we should be careful to notice in the Lord’s ascension are:

1. Jesus says, “You will receive power.”
That’s what ascension is about. Difficulties occur in life, but we can ascend above our fears, we can summon the power to face the problems, we can find the strength to cope with the challenges that come our way. Ascension reminds us that we will be able to find the power we need to navigate the challenges of life.

2. Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses.”
Jesus’ ascension means he’s been raised to a new level. He’s no longer with them physically, but he will always be with them in their memories, their values, their stories, their rituals, their ministries. As they are faithful to the work of the Jesus Movement, they will be living witnesses to the kin-dom of God Jesus imagined possible to experience on earth. As they continue to care for the sick, the vulnerable, the marginalized, the oppressed, the poor…as they work for justice and do so in the power of compassion, they will continue to be witnesses of the Christway. And the same is true for us.

In Luke 24, two men are present at Jesus’ graveside. They ask the mourners, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Jesus is not here; he is risen.” That story is repeated in the Ascension story. Two men show up, perhaps the same two men from the Easter narrative, and they witness Jesus’ rising, or ascension. And those two men give us our third point to ponder today.

3. The two men tell the disciples that Christ will return in the same way as he has ascended.
How has Jesus ascended? In community! Together, the disciples experienced the ascension. Together, they will experience his return…and, indeed, together at Pentecost they experience the return of Jesus’ spirit. We come together still, as the church, the body of Christ, to experience the energy, the power, the vision of Christ. In our togetherness, sharing time and ideas and resources, we experience Christ in new ways and we share the Christ ministry in new ways as well.

We live in a time when there is actually hatred of the poor.
We live in a time when there are increased attacks against the civil rights of vulnerable communities.
We live in a time of mass incarceration for profit.
We live in a time when war is glorified and peace is barely pursued.
There are real challenges, real threats, and there is very real pain in our world. The ascension tells us that there is power for us to cope with these challenges, that we can be the living witnesses of the Jesus Way of justice, compassion, and healing, and that as we commit to being, in community, the body of Christ, we will experience the light of Christ in our lives, in our ministry, and through us, in our world.

There is a West African story about a rancher who noticed his cows weren’t giving milk. He surmised that someone was milking them, and he became determined to catch the milk thief. He hid one night to see if he might catch some unscrupulous brigand milking his cows without permission. He was not prepared for what he discovered. He saw a woman descending from the sky, riding a moonbeam down to the earth. She was carrying a pale and began milking his cows.

He crept up on the woman, seized her, and demanded to know why she was robbing him. She explained that her people lived on the moon and they had run out of food…so, she was making trips to earth to gather milk to keep her people alive. It was a heart touching story (he coulnd’t help but notice, she was very beautiful). He’d forget the whole deal if she would agree to be his wife. She had been caught stealing, and the rancher was willing to forgive the theft, so she agreed, but she needed to bring this last haul of milk to her folks and pack for her new life on earth. The rancher agreed.

Soon, the moon maiden returned with only a few possessions, one of which was a box. She told her new fiancé, “You must never look in this box; it’s my most prized possession and its very private. Promise me you’ll never look in it.” And he promised.

It wasn’t long, however, before curiosity got the better of him. One day when his new wife was in town, he opened her precious box. He was stunned. All he saw was emptiness! Why would she forbid him from looking in an empty box. When she returned home, he confronted her. “I looked in your box, and it’s empty! Why did you make such a big deal about an empty box!” And she said very calmly, “I’m leaving you and returning to the moon.” Incredulous, he barked at her, “You would leave me for looking in an empty box?” And she said, “The box isn’t empty; it’s full of my hopes and dreams. I could never stay with someone who would look right at my fondest hopes and desires and see nothing.” And so she ascended on a moonbeam back to her ancestral home.

Jesus had dreams.
Jesus dreamed of children being safe, welcome, valued.
Jesus dreamed of outcasts finding a home in the blessed community.
Jesus dreamed of untouchables finding compassionate embrace.
Jesus dreamed of everyone sharing what they could so that everyone would have enough.
Jesus dreamed of peace, and justice for all people.
When we look at scripture, the sacraments, the boxes that hold Jesus’ dreams, do we see those dreams? Are we willing to help Jesus’ dreams come true? Isn’t that what it means to be a follower of Jesus?

The Ascension of the Lord today invites us to be aware of and share the desires of Jesus’ heart. The Ascension, then, calls us to:
Ascend above scarcity thinking
Ascend above self-loathing
Ascend above habitual fear
Ascend above indifference to the suffering of others
Ascend above addiction to violence
Ascend to higher levels of hope, generosity, and compassion

That’s our calling, to be uplifted, to uplift one another, and working together to help uplift our world. That’s the point of ascension, and this is the good news. Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

Grace is lifting me higher and higher.
Through me, grace is uplifting others.
Thank you, God!
And so it is.

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