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Two of our texts today are about the fantastic ascension story of Jesus Christ. He is carried up into the clouds while his disciples watch the soles of his feet. It is such a weirdly miraculous thing that I confess I become dumbfounded at how the Easter season ends. This seams to me a bit anti-climactic after the incredible narratives of foot washing, last suppers, betrayal, roosters crowing, intense prayers with blood, Pilate’s hand washing, the brutal torture of Jesus, his crucifixion, Jesus amazing words from the cross, his death and Christ’s resurrection. We are confronted with this scene of Jesus walking, teaching and then suddenly floating up to heaven. Really? I don’t know how the story could have ended better, but I yearn for something. I guess the story had to end and transition somehow, but this always leaves me a bit wanting.
Yet, I am left realizing that to focus on Jesus’ disappearing act is to miss the point of Jesus’ final teachings to his disciples. “You will be my witnesses.” So, we sit between listening to the exact teachings of the Rabbi and the transforming power of his Spirit. What is it that we have witnessed?
Jesus disappeared a long time ago. I am keen to note Jesus’ words to his disciples when he indicates that it will be harder on all of us who believe, but did not have the benefit of seeing him face to face. So, I hear from him is in these imperfect sacred texts filtered through a hundred fundamentalist preachers of my childhood. How do I know Jesus without filters? Without my own warped insecurities, daddy and mommy issues, cultural baggage, the push of marketing or the politicizing of religion is there anything left of Jesus? I guess there is a discomfort that comes between words and revelation.
That is what we crave, it is revelation! Revelation is what we are left as followers of Christ and it comes through the help of the Spirit of Christ. It is the uncovering of everything in our lives to reveal its true nature and potential in the light of God’s justice, grace, mercy and love. It is both personal in that it can tear away our facades to shine a light into the dark corners of our individual existences, as well as, turn us outwardly, ripping open the society, government and institutions whose distortions we want to ignore. Inevitably it must be a good news that sets captives free.
I have always been fascinated by survivor’s stories from Slavery, Hiroshima, Native Americans and recently I have picked up some old volumes I own of oral stories from the Hasidic survivors of the Holocaust. It seems that when one is in the midst of such unfathomable hardship truth is stripped down to its barest elements. Friendship is defined in the sharing of food to stave off starvation, courage is telling someone to silently return to camp from the gallows and freedom is the joy of suffering a heart attack to prove to oneself that you still have a heart. Many times these are called witnesses so that the world may never forget our complicity in genocides to the other in our society and world. To me they are a multi-faceted witness to both the power of the human spirit and the simplicity of revelations.
It is my suspicion that we always want to complicate revelation. It must be some grand initiative or elaborate self help program. Mostly those who are in crisis reveal that we are all too similar in our lives and that there is a banality in our problems. When stripped of our fears, apprehensions and safeguards most revelation is fairly simple at its core. Love, mercy, justice, grace, charity and hope are only as complicated as we want to inhibit their definitions. Yet, definitions are not living and breathing and faith is an action, not an intellectual game. As H. Richard Neibuhr reminds us, “Selves are known in act or not at all.”
What is it that we are witnessing to again? I will not answer that question for you today. As your pastor I do not function as your proxy for revelation. I can only witness to the what has been revealed to me. It is your responsibility to experience Christ’s revelation and act upon it. If we can not answer the simple question of revelation as a community of faith we are communicating a confused gospel to the world that surrounds us and belittle the creator in which we claim to worship. So, that is both a challenge and promise this morning.
We are meeting in council this afternoon and I think it would be instructive for us to take up this question on a continual basis. What is it that we are witnessing to in the Palisades community right now? You can ask it of the council, but only if you are asking it of yourselves this morning. Revelation requires an active and whole participation with the one who formed you. Once something is revealed to you it becomes your responsibility. We cannot shy away from tough questions, painful conclusions and life changing solutions that revelation brings. I can assure you that we will be where God wants us to be when we listen, observe and respond to revelation’s witness in our lives. It is something that will not be anti-climactic, but change all of our stories.
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