Sun, May 24, 2020

God... for grownups

Sermon for Ascension
Duration:11 mins 52 secs

Natasha and I have decided to get another wolfhound.

We’re on a waiting list and we’re hopeful that there will be a puppy available shortly––

we’ll probably know in a couple of weeks.

And, hopefully, this one will be a bit easier––

Liam, our last wolfhound, had a couple of difficult years at the end with illness.

Mind you, he was extremely hard work as a young pup as well.

Sure, he was friendly, happy, and playful.

But it was difficult trying to keep him from chewing things that he shouldn’t;

or trying to stop him from jumping––

because, as a giant breed, his long bones were fragile…

and it would have been easy to damage the growth plates…

so that his limbs didn’t form properly.

But he also had serious separation issues.

It didn’t help that he was barely ten weeks old…

when he was taken from his mother and his siblings…

put into a crate…

driven in a car for about two hours…

then left in the crate at an airport for several more hours––

in stinking heat––

before being packed into the cargo hold of a plane…

and flown halfway across the country.

It was a pretty traumatic experience for a youngster.

So, it wasn’t surprising that he became quite clingy.

And, since I work from home so much, we spent a lot of time together.

He didn’t want to let me out of his sight.

He would follow me to the toilet…

and lay on the bathroom floor when I showered.

And it came as a huge shock the first time that I had to go out…

and I shut him outside.

I don’t know if he howled the whole time––

or whether he just waited until I returned––

but he sure told me off.

And he continued to do so thereafter.

He would carry on in this part-howling, part-whining, part-barking sort of tone.

If he could have sat back and shaken a finger at me, he would have.

As he grew up, of course, he became more independent…

and he ended up spending more time on his own––

he got used to it… 

but he didn’t like it.


Of course, that’s even more true for us humans, isn’t it?

As we grow from children into adults…

we have to become more independent;

we have to do more and more things for ourselves…

take on more responsibility…

and bear the consequences of our choices and actions.

But it’s a hard transition.

When you’re young it’s very tempting to try to cling to old habits and practices;

to continue going back home when you’re in trouble…

when you need a good feed…

or when you’re broke.

And while that’s okay… 

in moderation…

the more that it happens, the more unhelpful that it becomes.

It’s hard for a relationship to change without some distance or separation.

And it’s hard to grow up or mature if you don’t learn to stand on your own two feet;

if you don’t start doing things for yourself;

if you don’t take responsibility for your actions.


At the end of Luke’s Gospel, the author suggested that Jesus “ascended” on the day of the resurrection.

However, at the start of the Book of Acts––

which we read this morning––

the author claims that the disciples had many experiences of the risen Jesus.

Indeed, over a forty-day period, he literally “presented himself to them”…

he was “visible to them”…

he “gathered with them”… 

and he “spoke with them about matters concerning the kingdom”.

And the shape of this morning’s story draws on a traditional form in ancient literature––

known as the “Farewell Scene”––

in which someone, who is dying, or departing on a long journey…

assembles their loved ones and helps prepare them for life without them.

And that’s what’s going on here.

Jesus was trying to help them to cope––

to mature in their thinking––

so that they would be ready to take on a new role…

which they would need to do once he was gone.


as the author composed this scenario… 

it seems that they had a hard time grasping that.

According to our reading, not much seems to have changed:

When the apostles had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’” 

Despite what’s happened––

despite all that they have experienced…

and all that Jesus has supposedly taught them––

they really haven’t moved.

They have failed to grasp the radical implications of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection––

how it overturns our perceptions, our values, and our expectations.

You see…

they still think of Jesus as some sort of political reformer;

as someone who will throw out the dreaded Romans…

and make the nation of Israel great once more.

They still have an “us-and-them” mentality––

believing God to be the god of Israel, alone;

that God was on their side…

at their beck-and-call.

And, consistent with that, Jesus was simply there to fulfil their hopes and dreams;

to make their lives better;

to do what they wanted.

In effect, they’re still stuck with a notion of God as a divine Parent;

whose primary role is to meet their needs… 

and to answer their incessant “give me’s”––

just like small children.


So, putting aside all of the symbolism and myth––

and the primitive world-view––

the Ascension of Jesus is about humanity growing up…

letting go of the past…

putting aside narrow, immature, childish images of God––

which many of us learned in Sunday School and never grew out of––

treating God as some sort of cosmic-dispensing machine…

or a frazzled parent who gives their kids what they want…

simply to keep them quiet.

The Ascension is about humanity grasping a more mature understanding of God;

learning to relate to God as adults;

and realising that that also means that our role has to change.

Now, we need to stand on our own two feet.

In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer––

if you excuse the non-inclusive language––

“God is teaching us that we must live as men who can get along very well without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us”.


And the Ascension is a reminder that we only learn to do that––

to grow up…

to mature in our thinking…

to relate to God as ‘parent’ in an adult way––

when there’s some distance or separation;

when we’re actually forced to stand on our own two feet…

have a go for ourselves…

make mistakes…

but learn to muddle through…

and discover, in the end, that we can do it ourselves;

that we do have what it takes;

that, by living as grown-up children of God––

by taking responsibility for our actions… 

and the messes that we make––

the world can yet be as God would have it be.

There may yet be justice for the poor and oppressed.

There may yet be genuine reconciliation between Aboriginal and white Australians.

There may yet be fair treatment for Asylum Seekers.

There may yet be peace between nations and races and different faiths.

But it won’t happen if we keep running back home all the time…

expecting God to fix the mess that we have got ourselves into.


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