Dorothy Churn LaPenta

Hope Presbyterian Church

Mitchellville, MD

Ascension of the Lord

Ephesians 1: 15-23

 

I HAVE HEARD OF YOUR FAITH

 

In packing up my office, things get placed in many categories; some things get recycled, some things get packed into a box for me to bring home because they belong to me, some things get left because they belong to the church, and then there are those things that can be thrown away. But then there’s another category, called the things that belong to you, but that I want because they have come to mean a lot to me.  There’s one thing in this category, that I haven’t shared with you very much, and I should have. It’s a picture that hangs on my wall in the corner. I treasure this photograph, and I have named it “hope.”

 

The photo was taken about thirty-seven years ago when the foundation of this sanctuary was being laid. We have members who were here for that event, and they could tell you what that was like.  Before this sanctuary was built, the congregation worshiped in Custis Hall, sitting in yellow chairs that are still with us, and not that comfortable. They had a ukulele to accompany their music, and a coffee pot for their fellowship time.

 

That congregation was made up of young families, some with young children, most of them at the beginning of their careers. They did not make more money than we make today according to the standards of living. Life wasn’t easier for them by any means. They just had different challenges. Granted, not many of them had motherlands other than the United States, and they did not have to send money home to family in those motherlands. But they had their challenges in their personal lives, and stewardship issues in their church life. But they sacrificed to build this sanctuary where the generations that followed them could come and worship, and here we are today.

 

I want to pack this picture, “hope,” and hang it in my office at home, and look at it, and be thankful for this congregation that preceded me. You probably wouldn’t miss it.

 

But I won’t pack it, because you are the ones who need to look at it, and remember, and be thankful. This picture was taken two pastors ago, three interim pastors ago, five general presbyters ago, and guess what- through it all, you have continued to be the church, with Jesus Christ as your head, and you as the body.  If you let it, your story will continue to unfold in Jesus Christ.  Christ’s reign continues to be worked out in space and time through the church.

 

 

You have good work to do. Yes, it can be hard work, but it’s good work because it’s Christ’s work, the hope to which you are called. It’s even in your name.  Hope!

 

I decided to focus this morning on the event known as the Ascension. It occurs forty days after the day of resurrection.  Following the resurrection, Christ walked the earth for forty days being with his disciples, preparing them to lead his church.

We place great emphasis on what God did in Jesus Christ in Resurrection, and we should but we fall short of placing enough emphasis on what God did in Jesus Christ in the Ascension.

 

God came to earth as a child born in a lowly manger, walked as a man who lived among the poor and marginalized of the world, and now has taken the Christ, and seated him at the right hand of God, where Christ prays for us, and remains with us as we continue his work of our Lord and Savior.

 

Jesus’ Ascension is much more than a spectacular ride on an invisible elevator.  In Jesus’s rising, we are also uplifted to place where Jesus is able to draw us to himself, over and over again.[1]

 

Now, the sad thing about us as humans is that we continuously do things to resist God’s efforts.  We know we do.  The work of the church can be tedious. Sometimes, we want to say, “Just give me a brick wall that I can beat my head against.” We just want to be happy and comfy, and not bothered, and that not the way God works to accomplish God’s purposes.  In the gift of faith, we know that the golden nuggets of God’s presence will be found in the most surprising places, even in the most tedious places, if, as Paul prayer to the Ephesians says, the eyes of our hearts are enlightened to see God’s presence.

 

The Letter to the Ephesians is thought to be an encyclical, which means that it wasn’t necessarily written for one church, but for all churches, for us.  It’s a prayer asking God to give Christians insight and vision, to help them know what’s important. It’s a prayer that requests that Christians might fully recognize what is already here, what they already been given in Christ Jesus. [2] You don’t have to wait for it.  It’s already here for you, and it that will be here for you on June 1, when I am no longer with you.

 

Your story will continue to unfold in Jesus Christ.  Their story (the people who laid the foundation for this sanctuary, the people who laid the foundation for this ministry at 1100 Enterprise Rd), their has story unfolded in Jesus Christ, through two pastors, three interims, five executive presbyters.  What God had given them in Christ Jesus, what they, as a congregation gave to you, God continues to give to you, that you might pass it on.

 

May you know this, and believe it. The Spirit of wisdom for you has its true source, not in me, or any pastor, but in knowing Christ.  The pastor is the vessel through which Christ works. The congregation is that vessel is well, and your story will continue to unfold in Jesus Christ.  May it be so!

 

Will there be times in this transition when you will want to say, “Just give me a brick wall to beat my head against?”  Oh, yes, of course! And you can choose to elaborate on the misery and challenge of it all, and how your comfort zone has been shaken.  Some days, you are going to need to do just that.

 

But, if you don’t do anything, but that, it will become more and more difficult for the eyes of your heart to become enlightened.  Seek, and ye shall find the golden nuggets of Christ’s presence in all things.  Seek, and ye shall find the Spirit of wisdom that has its source in knowing Christ.

 

Wendell Berry wrote a poem called “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,”  In the poem, he tells the reader, how to practice Resurrection.[3]

 

“You can shut your mind up in a little drawer, and take away all the mystery of your future,” or you can:

 

Do something every day that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have, and be poor. Love someone who doesn’t deserve it.  Give your approval to what you can’t understand. Ask questions that have no answers. Say that your main crop is the forest, which you did not plant, nor will you harvest, but for which you must care. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. Practice Resurrection !

 

And I would add to that Practice Ascension!  Jesus Christ was lifted, and is at the right hand of God praying for us.  Pray that the Spirit of the living Lord will enlighten the eyes of your hearts.  Pray for the Spirit of wisdom that comes with the knowledge of the Lord.  Pray that you will be lifted up to the place where Christ can draw you near to him. Pray that when you introduce yourself, and tell people that you are a member of Hope Presbyterian Church, they will say,

 

“I have heard about your faith.”

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen!

 

 

 

 

 

[1] David Schlaefer in “Feasting on The Word” Year B, Volume 2,  Westminster John Knox, Louisville: 2008, p 519.

[2] Lyle D. Vander Broek, “Feasting on The Word” p 515.

[3] Wendell Berry, Excerpts from “Manifesto; The Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front.”