Mediation for the Ascension Sunday/7th Sunday of Easter (Year A), 1 June 2014
The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 1: 1 – 11, Ephesians 1: 15 – 23, and Luke 24: 44 – 53.
I am beginning a personal study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think I was introduced to this individual when I was in college because of his anti-war stand but I didn’t equate that with his religious writings. In fact, I may not have even been aware, some thirty-five years ago, what he thought in that area.
But now it is a different story. I still am interested in a man who would renounce his pacifist background and work actively against a totalitarian regime, knowing full well that in doing so he risked his own life. And how, in these efforts, he challenged each one of us to examine our own belief in Christ and what it means to be a Christian.
I am aware that some of what Bonhoeffer wrote doesn’t set well with some religious writers and thinkers today. But at a time when Christianity is slowly but seemingly steadily moving towards a more legalistic and rule-bound religion, maybe we should stop and think about what he said. And how does this apply to this particular Sunday, Ascension Sunday?
I get a sense from in reading today’s passage from Acts that the disciples and other followers really didn’t want Jesus to leave. I am not sure if they were afraid of what might happen after He left or if they felt that they weren’t ready. Jesus did tell them that they would receive the Holy Spirit but that they would have to wait. I wonder how that would be received in today’s society with our “I want it now” mentality?
For me, the meaning of Ascension Sunday and the subsequent preparation for Pentecost is that the responsibility for bringing the Gospel message to the people is shifting from Christ to us. For three years, Jesus brought the Good News to the people and taught the disciples how to do it themselves. Granted, the disciples weren’t really aware that was what He was doing but during this period of time, from the Resurrection through this Sunday and on to next Sunday, the “light bulb” in their minds was beginning to come on.
I have said it before but it bears repeating. As much as I am Southern born and Southern bred, so too am I evangelical. I was baptized an evangelical and I was confirmed in the Evangelical United Brethren Church and I have this evangelical nature to me. But just as I do not hold to so many of the Southern traditions that tore this country apart some 150 years ago, I am not an evangelical in the manner that it is used today.
And quite honestly, and this will tick off some of my friends, I don’t think my purpose as an evangelical is to make you come to Christ or condemn you if you don’t. I don’t see evangelism as the imposition of my will on your life.
Rather, I hold to evangelism in much the same manner that Clarence Jordan did. For Dr. Jordan, evangelism was the declaration that God was changing people and the world. It was the broadcasting of the Good News that kingdom of God was breaking loose in human history and that a new social order was being created and that we were all invited to share in what was happening. Evangelism required that we declare the Gospel in both word and deed.
Yes, evangelism includes challenging people to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to transform them into new creations. But it was much more than than. It was also in proclaiming what God was doing in society right now to bring about justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed.
Evangelism was the call to participate in the revolutionary transformation of the world. It required that you live out the Kingdom of God in community and through social action. (notes on evangelism from the foreword to The Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts by Tony Campolo).
So, if evangelism is our opportunity to show the Gospel as well as speak of the Gospel, shouldn’t it be done on our own. It isn’t that we don’t need Christ to do the work but He sort of wants us to do the work, don’t you think?
And yet, how many people are willing to do that? They are quite willing to speak of what needs to be done but not so quick to take on the task. And what I have gained from reading Bonhoeffer is the distinct impression that we need to be doing what we have been called to do. My early reading of The Cost Of Discipleship suggests that he saw the church more in the streets than in a sanctuary on Sunday.
I don’t think he was saying that we shouldn’t be in the sanctuary on Sunday but that isn’t where we were going to do the most good. And this fits well with my understanding of prevenient grace, that having achieved a state of grace, we need to work to improve on it rather than lose it.
But I don’t think that we can do anything if we are completely and totally focused on Jesus, here on earth. And while it may be presumptuous on my part, I don’t think that was His intention either. We weren’t going to do much with Him around, no matter how much we might want Him to be.
But Jesus reminds us, as He reminded the disciples gathered that day that He would send the Holy Spirit to facilitate the actions that we have to take.
So what do we do now? We proclaim that Jesus is the Christ and then we show the people what it truly means to be a Christian, by not only our words but our actions and our deeds. We open our hearts and receive the Holy Spirt so that we are empowered to bring the Good News to the world.