The other day I saw the title of an article that was so intriguing I just had to take a look at the article. The article was titled – “The best of the worst country and western song titles.” Much to my surprise, because despite living in the country I never listen to country and western music, I knew the song that got the number one spot and not only that the song is quite relevant to this week’s gospel passage. Yes the Holy Spirit moves in mysterious ways. So what is the title of the song that won the number one spot of the best of the worst country and western song titles? “Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life.” Yes the title is an actual line in the song.
The witness of those who knew Jesus is that after his death and resurrection and ascension Jesus still comes to us. He continued to come to those who knew him and he continued to interact in their lives. But his coming to them was challenging. Jesus’ coming to us is challenging. He is not about to just drop kick us through the goal posts of life. Encountering Jesus is much more challenging.
In the reading we had from Luke’s gospel today Jesus, after the resurrection, has once again appeared among the disciples. He says to them, peace be with you. That is not simply a greeting or a way of saying hello. That is an invitation into a relationship. It is saying I want to connect with you. I care about your well being. I want you to have fullness of life. Then he assured them that he was real. He invited them to touch him and then He ate with them. “Then he said to them these are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. They already had an understanding of the scriptures. They already had an understanding of what God was like. They already had an understanding of what God expected of them and how God’s relationship with humanity worked. This was not new to them. They were not listening to Jesus talk about scripture they had never heard before. They were listening to Jesus expound their understanding of scripture. Their understanding of very familiar scripture – the law of Moses, the prophets, the psalms. They thought they had figured out who God was and what God required of them. As if understanding or knowledge was the goal. They would have thought – I have read and even memorized most of the law of God given to us through Moses, therefore I please God. I read the prophets and head their warning to pay closer attention to the law of God, therefore I please God. I am a child of Abraham therefore I belong to God. Maybe we would add – I believe there is nobody in history like Jesus. No matter where I end up in this game of life, Jesus can drop kick me right through the middle of those goal posts putting me right in the centre of the end zone, which is the goal.
“Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures”. There is an incredible invitation here. The invitation is to know God, not just God’s book. Not just things about God. But to know God. The invitation is to experience Jesus, not just hear what people said about him. Jesus meets us right where we are. He meets us right where we are so that we can get to know him. Not through our understanding but through his grace. Jesus even came to the scribes and scholars and Pharisees who preferred the letter of the law over the person in front of them. Who preferred the safety of unambiguous applicable rules over the murky ambiguity of grace? Jesus may have at times been yelling and table flipping but he was/is always ready for a midnight conversation with anyone of them, or us, who is brave enough to show up.
We live in an incredible world teaming with life. There are wonders to explore and discover and experiences to satisfy our hunger. But no matter how satisfying the wonders of life are we hunger for more. Throughout history humans have embraced and encountered the mysterious world we refer to as the spiritual world. Human history is full of this longing for and interaction with the spiritual. Even today with immense increase in scientific understanding and ability there is not a decrease in longing to embrace the spiritual there is actually an increase. People long to discover spiritual reality. People long to discover God.
“Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures”. He opened their minds. He did not leave them exploring life on their own he came to them; he comes to us so that we can know him and the depth of his love for us. Jesus says you will not actually discover the reality you long for on your own. I will reveal it to you. I am God. I have been communicating to you. He opened their minds to understand that the Messiah is to “suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins, grace, is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations…..you are witnesses of these things……stay until you have been clothed with power from on high. Then he led them out as far as Bethany and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them…. into heaven.”
The witness of those who were there, of those who experienced Jesus, of those in the story we just read, is that he was like no one they had encountered before. The very world in which we live, creation itself, seemed to listen to him. He was compassionate, he was loving, he was gracious. He expressed that love and that grace to everyone and to anyone. He treated everyone equally. He was constantly calling us to turn from our self serving self centered ways and to trust him. He kept telling us to forgive one another, to love one another. He kept telling us that he was God who had been communicating with our ancestors and caring for us and loving us. Then those in power put him to death because his presence changed everything. But death could not hold him. He rose from the dead and appeared to us over and over again. Not just a few of us but hundreds of us. We touched him, we hugged him, we ate with him over and over again. He would come and he would go. Then one day it was different. He did not just appear and then disappear like he had been doing. One day we watched him go. We watched him return to heaven. Our witness to you is that God became a human, a human that loved us like no one had ever loved us before. Even when he experienced the worst of humanity he continued to offer forgiveness and love in return. He experienced a brutal death but death could not hold him. He is the author of life and he rose from the dead. He proved to us who he was over and over again. And then we witnessed him return to heaven.
Today we celebrate what we refer to as the ascension of Jesus. His return to heaven. We proclaim him as Lord of heaven and earth. We don’t need to simply be satisfied to wander around life experiencing the pleasures that life has to offer and then hope when it comes to an end that somehow we will move on to some new spiritual existence, that we will get drop kicked into some new spiritual existence. We don’t need to be satisfied with just knowing about God, with just wondering about God and coming to conclusions about God that satisfy our understanding. We don’t need to settle for what people have said about Jesus. It’s not simply left up to us to try and figure out whether it is true or not true. That is not the witness.
The witness is that Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures. The witness is that Jesus clothed them with power from on high. The witness is that we can know God not just what is said about God. The witness is that we can experience Jesus not just hear what people have said about him. The witness is that as we find ourselves wandering around this place called life, hearing about a destination called heaven, wondering how we are going to get there we don’t need to just hope that in the end Jesus will somehow transport us there because Jesus comes to us now. Not as an adviser but as the Lord of heaven and earth. Not as a guide to a destination but as the destination itself.
The witness is that we too can be witnesses to the grace and the mercy and the love of God in Christ in our lives and to us. We can join in the story not just observe the story from the outside looking in because the story is reality. The story is life. Jesus is life.
“Then he led them out as far as Bethany and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”
Come humble yourself, bow down and worship Christ our Lord. Receive His blessing of grace and mercy in your life this day. Be filled with the joy of knowing the creator of heaven and earth whose love for us is so great that God took on flesh and lived among us. God knows your suffering and your struggles and your grief. Christ comes to you and meets you in your darkness as your Lord, as your God, to give you life. Welcome him this day wherever you may find yourself in life.