Sunday, May 13, 2018

7 Easter / The Litany for Women in our lives

The Sunday after the Ascension

May 13, 2018

John 17.6-19

+ I know it seems strange to say this on this beautiful May morning—on Mother’s Day, but you all know we are still in the Easter season, right? I know. Easter, way back on April 1, seems like ages ago already. But for another week, we are still in the Easter season, still saying out Alleluias, still lighting the Paschal candle at every Mass.

I don’t know if I can say we’re still basking in the glow of the fire lit at our Easter Vigil.  But, it does definitely seem like there is a winding down.  A winding down of the Easter season.

Certainly this week, in our scripture readings, we see this slow movement away from the Easter season toward Pentecost, which is next week.   For the last several weeks, we have been basking in the afterglow of the resurrected Jesus. In our Gospel readings, this resurrected Jesus has walked with us, has talked with us, has eaten with us and has led the way for us.  

Last Wednesday night at Mass, we celebrated the Eve of the Feast of the Ascension.  In that Mass we commemorated the ascension of Jesus.  Now, he has been taken up. And with that we find a transformation of sorts happening.  With his ascension, our perception of Jesus has changed.  No longer is he just a wise sage, the misunderstood rebel, the religious renegade that he seemed to be when he walked around, performing miracles and upsetting the religious and political powers that be.

He is now something much more.  He is more than just a regular prophet.  He is the Prophet extraordinaire.  He is more than just a king—a despotic monarch of some sort like Caesar or Herod.  He is truly the Messiah.  At his ascension, we find that he is, in a sense, anointed, crowned and ordained.  And he now sits at the right hand of God.

At his ascension, we find that what we are gazing at is something we could not comprehend before.  He has reminded us that God has taken a step toward us.  He has showed us that God loves us and cares for us. He has reminded us that God speaks to us not from a pillar of cloud or fire, not on some shroud-covered mountain, not in visions. But God is with us and speaks in us. We are now empowered to be God’s prophets.   

The puzzle pieces are falling into place.  What seemed so confusing and unreal is starting to come together. God truly does love us and know us.

And next week, one more puzzle piece falls into place. Next week, we will celebrate God’s Spirit descending upon and staying with us.

For the moment, we are in this plateau, caught in between those two events—Ascension and Pentecost—trying to make sense of what has happened and trying to prepare ourselves for what is about to happen.  But things are about to really change.  We are caught between Jesus’ ascent into heaven and the Spirit’s descent to us.  This week, smack dab in the middle of the twelve days between the Ascension and Pentecost, we find ourselves examining the impact of this event of God in our lives.

And God has made an impact in our lives.  We, those of us who are fortunate enough to experience the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, at least liturgically, in our Sunday readings and in our liturgy, find ourselves constantly confronted with the meaning of these events from God.  We are faced with the reality of them and what we should do to make sense of them.

I’m not certain there is a way we can make sense of the Ascension, but I can say this: if we only see the ascension as some kind of mystical event and don’t see it as a mirror for ourselves, we’ve missed the point.  The commission that the ascended Jesus gave to the apostles, is still very much our commission as well.  We must love—fully and completely.  

Because in loving, we are living.

In loving, we are living fully and completely.

In loving, we are bringing the ascended Christ to others.

And we must go out and live out this commission in the world.

When we do that, the ascended Christ is very much still acting in the world.

When we think about what those first followers went through in a fairly short period of time—Jesus’ betrayal and murder, his resurrection and his ascension—we realize it was a life altering experience.  Their lives—their faith, their whole sense of being—was changed forever.  They would never be who they were again.

We also have had life-altering experiences in our own lives.  Oftentimes, when those experiences happen to us, we find ourselves reeling from them.  We find ourselves simply moving through the life-altering events with bated breath. Only later, when everything has settled down, do we have the opportunity to examine what had just happened to us.  And it is then that we realize the enormity of these changes in our lives.

(And yes, I’m preaching to myself here, as well, of course)

For those first followers of Jesus, it seems like they didn’t have much of a change to ponder their life-altering experiences. As soon as one life-altering experience happened, another one came along. Just when they had experienced Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, they encountered this outpouring of God’s Spirit in their lives.

The waters, it seemed, were kept perpetually stirred.  Nothing was allowed to settle.

That is what our ministry is often like. One day, very early in my career, I came to that realization myself.  Ministry is perpetually on-going.  There is never an ending to it.  It’s always something.  One week brings another set of opportunities, set-backs, trip-ups, tediums, frustrations, joys, celebrations.

Ministry truly is a never-ending roller-coaster ride of emotions and feelings. There are moments when it all seems to be useless and pointless.  There are moments when one is, quite simply, frightened.  There are moments when one feels so overwhelmed by the fact that one is simply not qualified to be doing the work. These are things those first followers of Jesus no doubt struggled with.  

And we all struggle with these doubts in our own lives.  Yet we, like them, are sustained. We, like them, are upheld.  We, like them, are supported by the God who welcomed the ascended Jesus, whose work we are doing in this world.  In those moments when our works seems useless, when it seems like we have done no good work, the God who brought Jesus back still triumphs.

Our job, in this time between Jesus’ departure from us and the return of the Holy Spirit to us, is simply one of letting God do what God needs to do in this interim.  We need to let the Holy Spirit work in us and through us.  We need to let the God who brought Jesus to heaven be the end result of our work.  When it seems that we have failed, we need to realize that, above us, the Ascension is happening.  

All we have to do is look up. All we have to do is stop gazing at our dirty, callused, over-worked hands—all we have to do is turn from our self-centeredness—and look up.  And there we will see the triumph.  And as we do, we will realize that we are not failures. There is no failure with a God who calls to ascend.  

Jesus has ascended.  And we have—or will—ascend with him as well.  He prays in today’s Gospel that we

“may have [his] joy made complete in [ourselves].”

That joy comes when we let the Holy Spirit be reflected in we do in this world.

So, let this Spirit of joy be made complete in you.  Let the Spirit of joy live in you and through you and be reflected to others by you.  When we do, we will be, as Jesus promises us,

“sanctified in truth.”

We will be sanctified in the truth of knowing and living out our lives in the light of ascension.  We will be sanctified by the fact that we have looked up and seen the truth happening above us in beauty and light and joy .

I would like to close my sermon today, on this Mother’s Day, with a prayer for all the women of our faith and our lives. I have freely adapted this “Litany of Women” from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals]

A Litany to Honor Women

Let us pray
We walk in the company of the women who have gone before, Mothers of the faith both named and unnamed testifying with ferocity and faith to God's Spirit of Wisdom and Healing.

They are the judges, the prophets, the martyrs, poets, artists, healers, lovers and Saints who are near to us in the shadow of awareness, in the crevices of memory, in the landscape of our dreams.

We today walk in the company of Deborah,
who judged the Israelites with authority and strength.

We walk in the company of Esther,
who used her position as Queen to ensure the welfare of her people.

We walk in the company of whose names have been lost and silenced,
who kept and cradled the wisdom of God.

We walk in the company of the woman with the flow of blood,
who audaciously sought her healing and release.

We walk in the company of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who said “yes” to God, who carried within her God’s Word, who  cradled in her arms the broken body of her Son.

We walk in the company of Mary Magdalene,
who wept at the empty tomb until the risen Christ appeared.

We walk in the company of Phoebe,
who led an early church in the empire of Rome.

We walk in the company of Perpetua of Carthage,
whose witness in the third century led to her martyrdom.

We walk in the company of Julian of Norwich,
who wed imagination and theology proclaiming "all shall be well."

We walk in the company of the women of St. Stephen’s, past and present and future, both named and unnamed, who have stood up, spoken out and ministered boldly in the Name of the One who called them.

We walk in the company of Joyce, who endured, who persisted, who stood tall against disappointment and adversity, and who ended her journey on this earth with strength and dignity, comforted and welcomed by her God.

We walk in the company of you Mothers of the faith, who teach us to resist evil with boldness, to lead with wisdom, to heal and to love God and others by both word and action.


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