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How Well Do We Know God?

How Well Do We Know God?
Published by Josh Hosler on Sun, May 21, 2023 4:18 PM


sermon preached at Church of the Good Shepherd, Federal Way, WA www.goodshepherdfw.org
by Anna Lynn, Diaconal Postulant
The Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year A), May 21, 2023
Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Welcome to the Seventh Sunday of Easter. This is day 43 of the 50 days of the Easter season, also known as Eastertide. Today, we find ourselves between two major feast days of the church, the Feast of the Ascension, which we celebrated here at Good Shepherd on Wednesday, on the Eve of the Ascension, Where Jesus ending his earthly ministry, ascended back to the Father. And the Feast Day of Pentecost, which is next Sunday, where we are all invited to wear the color red to commemorate the gift of the Holy Spirit, descending on the disciples in the form of tongues of fire, empowering the mission of the church.

Today, in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we find that the disciples are struggling to understand what they have witnessed, as they have watched Jesus ascend into the clouds on his way to the Father, just as he told them he would. And Even though He told them what was to come, the disciples seem a bit bewildered, as they stand there, staring towards the sky. It takes two heavenly messengers to remind them that there is no point in gazing upward, because Jesus has gone and it is time for the Disciples to return to Jerusalem, back to the safety and security of the upper room and right back into that liminal space of unknowing. The disciples understand that once again, something has changed, Jesus has left them behind and they struggle to comprehend what is to come, so in community they begin to pray.

I wonder if any of you can relate to how the disciples might have been feeling? Has there been a time in your life that you have felt bewildered or stunned? Struggling to understand a situation? How did you cope with your feelings? Was there a community of support that you could turn to?

I can remember after two years of discernment and just having started the educational requirements for the Diaconate, being informed that I would have to step down from all my responsibilities at my home church and leave when I was assigned to my Field Education Church.

This gave me anxiety and feelings of guilt, knowing that I had to pass along additional responsibilities to others, in a mission-sized congregation where too few are already wearing far too many hats. (Well, wait…that sounds familiar, maybe that is in every congregation). But I understood that I needed to have learning experiences in other size churches, to help me grow and further develop my diaconal identity.

What threw me for a loop, was when I was informed that once I left my home church, that I could not return, unless I was invited by the Priest in Charge or by prior approval of the Bishop or the Archdeacon! Wait, what??!! First, believe me, no one in this process ever wants to bother the Bishop or the Archdeacon, especially a postulant named Anna. I was truly bewildered and think I can remember having to pick my jaw up off the floor. I went into my own liminal space to discern how I would manage my guilt, sadness and now grief of having to say goodbye, knowing that I would not be able to stop in and visit the congregation that raised me up, that is my family. So, like Jesus’ disciples, I also prayed, and I was joined by my entire home church community in prayer. We prayed together for the comfort of all, as we grieved this weird mixture of emotion – Joy, that I was moving forward in this process towards the diaconate, but also experiencing many feelings of sadness and loss all at the same time.

As we turn to our Gospel reading from John, we learn that just prior to ascending, that Jesus too, turned to prayer. He is praying to the Father about the completion of his earthly ministry and on behalf of the disciples.

Jesus prays - I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. – They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me, I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; protect them in your name, that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

I can hear the love that Jesus feels for his disciples – His friends and for his ministry, within this prayer, it must have been so difficult for Jesus to leave his earthy life behind and ascend.

In preparing for this sermon, I was reminded of another sermon given by the Rev. Ellen Clark-King a few years ago at Grace Cathedral.

It was during the pandemic, and I was regularly church surfing online each Sunday morning and Rev. Ellen’s sermon on the ascension, not only spoke to me theologically, but it filled my heart with joy and her words have never left me:

She said, “that the Ascension is not about Jesus leaving the world and going home to heaven, but about something far theologically richer, it’s about humanity going home to God. Most of the time our Christian focus is on how Christ transforms us, how God chose to sanctify our bodily reality by becoming flesh, like us. How in Jesus we see a new openness, of a loving forgiving being, how through death and resurrection Jesus broke the chains of violence and death, to offer us new life in freedom.

But the ascension offers us another new perspective, that it’s not only we who are changed by Christs loving presence among us, God is also changed. The passionate, intimate relationship that Christ formed with humanity works its transformative power both ways, on God as well, as on us. For Christ doesn’t return to God unchanged, Jesus doesn’t shed his bodily existence and leave it behind… but takes it with him into the heart of God.”

Rev. Ellen continues, “So as a result of the ascension, right at the heart of God is our humanity. Right at the heart of who God is, there’s the experience of death, of suffering, of laughter, of embracing friends, of loneliness, of sleepless nights, of tears, of regret, and of hope. All the chaotic loveliness and pain of human life isn’t shrugged off and discarded but brought into the heart of God’s Being.”

Truly, Jesus ascends to bring us more of God to the earth, in the form of the Holy Spirit (which we will find out more about next week on Pentecost) and more of our humanity right into the heart of God.

It gives me such joy and comfort to know that we are the ones that God chooses to know so deeply, all our feelings of bewilderment, anxiety, guilt, sadness, grief, happiness, and love! God knows us!

This leads me to wonder how much time we give back in getting to know God. Do you know God? Maybe you don’t or maybe it has been a while since you spent some time connecting with God.

So, this week, in the pause between the ascension and Pentecost, I invite you to join me in finding an upper room that you can retreat to, a place where you feel safe to spend some time focusing on knowing God more deeply. That upper room can be out in nature, or maybe it is sitting somewhere quietly, it can be time spent in prayer, it can be within community it is anywhere that you feel a closeness to God.

Spend some time with the One who knows you and loves you and chose you. Amen.

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