Sermons

Sun, May 16, 2010

Leaving The Nest

Sermon for Ascension
Series:Sermons
Duration:11 mins

Liam is a lovely puppy––
friendly…
happy…
and playful.
But I guess I didn’t quite appreciate how much work having a young pup would be.
I don’t just mean trying to keep him from chewing things he shouldn’t…
or trying to stop him from jumping––
since, being a giant breed, his long bones are fragile…
and it’d be easy to damage the growth plates…
so his limbs wouldn’t form properly.

But there have also been separation issues.
It didn’t help that he was barely ten weeks old…
when he was taken from his mum and his siblings…
put in 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 flying half way across the country.
It was a pretty traumatic experience for the young fellow.
So, it’s not surprising that he became quite clingy.
And, since I work from home so much, we spent a lot of time together.
And he didn’t want to let me out of his sight.
He’d follow me to the toilet…
he lay on the bathroom floor while I had a shower.
And, of course, he was very dependant.
He relied on me to get his food…
and to help remind him where his toilet was.
So it came as a huge shock the first time 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.
Still does.
He carries on in this part-howling, part-whining, part-barking sort of tone.
If he could sit back and shake a finger at me, he would.
And he always does a poo on the back porch in protest.
It’s hard.
But as he grows up, he’s going to have to spend more and more time on his own.
He has to get used to it.
He’s going to have to be more independent.

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…
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 it happens, the more unhelpful 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 his Gospel, Luke suggested that Jesus “ascended” on the day of the resurrection.
However, at the start of the Book of Acts––
which we heard read this morning––
Luke 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––
that of 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 him.
And that’s what’s going on here.
Jesus was trying to help them to cope…
to mature in their thinking…
so that they’d be ready to take on a new role…
which they’d need to do once he was gone.
But, as Luke composed this scenario, it seems 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 they’ve experienced…
and all that Jesus has supposedly taught them––
they really haven’t moved.
They’ve 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’ll 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…
but of no one else;
believing that God was on their side…
that God was 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 role is continually to meet their needs…
and to answer their incessant “give me’s”… like those of 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 grow 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 changed.
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”.

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…
to have a go for ourselves…
to make mistakes…
but 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’ve got ourselves into.

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