Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ascension Sunday

Genesis 3: 1-9 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” Sermon On the night of my high school graduation it rained and the ceremony was moved to the gym rather than the big outdoor football stadium, and parents and graduates-to-be waited in line while the high school’s staff moved all the wet speakers, microphones, and other equipment from one place to the other. Because of the water the microphone kept going in and out, and I remember when it was my turn to walk across the stage, though rather than hearing my name read there was silence. I was ready to walk from the edge of the stage to the middle where my High School Principle stood holding my diploma, but I needed to hear my name called out first, that was my cue – but the microphone had gone out. I stood there for a few seconds, and then, rather than hope the microphone would start to work again I yelled it out myself “Joseph Belton Evans,” and walked across the stage to receive my diploma. That’s what it felt like was necessary to do if I was going to be noticed, and in that moment that’s exactly what I wanted – to be noticed, to be seen and known. But that’s not always the case. Adam and Eve were in the garden. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”” There are times when I want to be noticed and there are times when I don’t, and usually when I want one it’s the other that I get. I’ve been to Kroger a million times, dressed and shaven, ready and willing to run into anyone, hoping even to see and to be seen, but try to run in and out of the Kroger avoiding anyone’s notice in a wet bathing or sweat pants – that’s the time when every member of First Presbyterian Church will be grocery shopping. “Where are you?” God asks, but Adam and Eve don’t want to be found. The prophet Elijah wants the same thing. He would have loved for God to have been there when Jezebel was hunting him down, but now that he’s made it to this cave he doesn’t want to be bothered. Particularly I imagine he doesn’t want to be bothered by God who seems to only show up when you want to be alone. He lays down in a cave after a journey of forty days and forty nights when a voice said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Elijah goes out to see, and God was not in any of the places God had ever been before. Elijah knew to look for God in the wind, but God was not in the wind. He knew to look for God in the earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then there was fire, but God was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. Silence – is that where God is? You can look for God there, but sometimes looking for God in the silence is like staring into the sky as the disciples were. There the disciples stood. Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight,” and you can’t blame them as they kept on staring up into heaven even after they could no longer see him. Surely they had a million questions after seeing something like that. As he rose into the clouds they probably wanted to know if the same thing was going to happen to them one day. “What is it like to fly like that Jesus,” I can imagine one of them asking if he ever had the chance. And most pressing, most importantly, “Are you ever coming back?” If you’re hiding in the bushes not wanting to be found God will walk right up – call you by name – if you don’t want to be found you can expect to be found whether you want to be found or not. If you want to be left alone you can bet that God will follow you as God did right to Elijah’s cave. But if you have questions, if you need guidance, if you are ready to be found – you may find yourself looking for God but seeing only clouds. That may have been the case for three women I met last Thursday. They were arrested for some crime or another, held in our county jail, which is one of those places where I imagine that you wake up every morning asking yourself, “How did I get here and when will I get out?” You’re given a bed to lie in, but you don’t sleep soundly – it was around two years ago I think when the beds were found to be infested with spiders as though these ladies needed anything else to keep them up at night. They also get some food to eat that costs tax payers about 80 cents a meal, a jump suit to wear, and four cinder block walls to stare at. You can lose yourself in a place like that, it’s easy to give up on yourself, I don’t imagine anyone enjoys looking themselves in the mirror there and seeing the woman in a jail jumpsuit looking back, and worse, a place like that can feel like somewhere God would never go. “Where is God,” the inmate might ask, but when you are the most desperate to see God’s face sometimes God seems to be the farthest away. You search the clouds for something, but see only clouds. “While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” Isn’t that a strange thing – that two strangers, angels maybe, came walked up to those disciples staring up into heaven but the disciples didn’t even notice? When we feel lost, when God seems far away and gone, are we blind to the angels right beside us? Last Thursday a group of ladies from our church who had been tutoring them and preparing them for their High School Equivalency Exam were also right there beside them when they took the test at Columbia State. Jesus ascends into heaven, but not without sending angels to be at your side. Every year we come to this place, and once we’re all here it’s no wonder why. It’s so good to be in a place where cell phones don’t work, making it easier to be here with each other, valuing what it is to be a part of a community of faith. We can be angels to each other of course, reminding each other that when God seems the most far away you must be bold in expecting God to show up again at any moment. Our God goes before us, God is beside us, and even within us, and “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, he will come again.” Be there to remind each other of this truth. Amen.

No comments: