Sunday, May 12, 2013

He Is Here!

Thursday, May 9, was The Feast of the Ascension – forty days after Easter, ten days before Pentecost. The biblical basis for this annual celebration lies in these passages from Luke-Acts:
Luke 24:44-53/ Psalm 47/ Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11. At some dimension it remembers that moment in time when Jesus left the disciples, which always means us, on our own as he is depicted rising up into the heavens to his celestial abode, reunited as One with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps the first thing to notice in a close reading of the appointed texts is the opening of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles: In the first book, Theophilus I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught fromt eh beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions….

Evidently there was a First book – the best candidate is the Gospel of Luke, which begins: Insasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of all that has happened…it seemed good to me also…to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus…

That is the compiler of Luke appears to be the compiler of Acts: volume one chronicles the earthly life of God incarnate, Jesus, while volume two describes the life among his followers after he returns to being God.  Both books are dedicated to the honorary “Theophilus” which in the Koine Greek of the day means something like, “Friend of God,” “God lover,” or even “Beloved of God….”

That is, both books are dedicated to anyone who loves or wants to love God, and/or be loved by God….which could be me or you or all of us…. Which makes it worth pausing to consider: when was the last time a book was dedicated to you? What does it feel like to know that someone nearly 2000 years ago addressed not one but two books to you, giving you the honorific title of “Friend of God,” or “Beloved of God?”

It took me a long time – nearly 30 years, to come around to accepting all this, so it is safe to assume that we all come to such acceptance in our own time – not chronos or clock time, but what the Koine Greek calls chairos, or God-time….the right time or the opportune time….your time….our time….Our day will come/and we’ll have everything/we’ll share the joy/falling in love can bring…our day will come…..[Ruby and the Romantics!]

All the great mystics of Judaism, Christianity and Islam write about becoming accepting God’s love in terms of romance and love: Rabia, Kabir, Hafiz all urge us to fall in love with God:
my soul
there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church
where I kneel.
Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.
Is there not a region of love where the sovereignty is 
illumined nothing,
where ecstasy gets poured into itself
and becomes
where the wing is fully alive
but has no mind or 
my soul
there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque,
a church
that dissolve, that 
dissolve in
-RABIA From ‘Love Poems From God‘ by Daniel Ladinsky. 

As the disciples, as hapless a crew of followers as any religious figure has ever attracted, look up into the heavens, watching, seeking, searching the skies just as we do today with instruments like the Hubble telescope attempting to look all the way to the outer edges of the universe, the universes, hoping to catch a glimpse, of what? The origins of everything? The starting point? The Alpha to our Omega? Just a small glimpse of God, or Jesus, or Allah, or Yahweh, or whatever/whomever might be out there who may have set all this we call life in motion.

We may as well admit it, one time or another we all look out there – it is just so compelling to do so - to look beyond with some inkling that there is something out there beyond our knowing, all that is seen and unseen. So there are the disciples looking up in the sky when “two men in white robes” appear suddenly asking, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

Why indeed?

“This Jesus, who has been taken up  from you into heaven,” they continue, “Will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people…Thanks be to God, we say! But as Paul Harvey used to say, now for the rest of the story. The very next line tells us that they go back to Jerusalem. Which is why Luke gives us these two accounts. Because the other account – the first account?- seems to take place on Easter Day, Easter Evening really. Before he takes off in version one he specifically says: stay in the city and wait for further instructions. Which they do. And they were “continually worshipping in the Temple blessing God…” As in Psalm 47, “God has gone up with a shout/the Lord with the sound of the Ram’s horn/Sing praises to God, sing praises/ sing praises to our king, sing praises….

Jesus says, and Muhammed, praise be upon him, would reiterate some seven hundred years later, that instead of looking elsewhere for meaning in this life, stay right here…it is what we do here that matters, not what might happen on the coming Day of Judgment, the Day of the Lord.

So it one recites from Surah Two of the Quran, The Cow, verses 21-22, a Surah that focuses on turning to and maintaining God Consciousness: O Mankind, Worship your sustainer [and they were continually worshipping in the Temple blessing God…] who has created you and those who lived before you, so that you might remain conscious of Him who has made the earth a resting place for you and the sky a canopy, and has sent down water from the sky and thereby brought forth fruits for your sustenance: do not, then, claim that there is any power that could rival God when you know that He is One!”

Oddly, Jesus and Muhammed bear a similar message to humankind, to people like us who often forget that we were not only made by God but also are made in the image of God, who as the opening lines of Torah state unequivocally that God, Allah, Yahweh, not only made this earth our fragile island home in an otherwise dark, cold and seemingly impersonal universe, but gave it to us, gifted it to us for our Sustenance – for our care – as the place where we live out the kind of God consciousness the Quran imagines to be our purpose.

Two men in white stand beside them, beside us, beside all humankind and ask, why do you stand looking up into the heavens? Here is where you are meant to be. Here is where you live and move and have your being. Here we are meant to care for one another, and love one another as Jesus prayed we would do the night before he died. Including, said Jesus, love for our enemies.

We like it when he speaks of love thinking fondly of the Beatles who sang, “All you need is love!” But when he extends it to loving our enemies we pause – we recoil. Perhaps, Lord,  you are pushing it a little too far. So it turns out we need more than just love. We need compassion, we need understanding, we need to respect the dignity of every human being.

Yet, we attempt to deny Tamerlan Tsarnaev burial on American soil. We watch with disbelief as protesters attend military funerals as a platform for hateful speech in the name of Christ. There is a wideness to God’s mercy we sing, and yet we find for more and more ways to narrow that mercy to fit our own puny fear of “the other.”

The last words of New Testament Scripture are, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.” Makes sense: he leaves after forty days of resurrection appearances so we want him to return. Yet, this is contradicted by Matthew’s understanding of his final appearance when he says, “I am with you always to the end of the age.” That is, he is here. He is there. He is here. He is always here. Faith is nothing if not shot through and through with paradox and irony! I can almost hear The Reverend Thomas Talley cackling, “Of course, sillies! He is here AND he is there – this is not a problem for a God who wants to love us and seeks nothing more than our love in return – which means a love for all that he has created – seen and unseen -  including loving our enemies here and now.”

In the end, sometimes we do need to look up to the heavens for some inkling of insight, hope, or love so that we can be here, really really be here in the present moment doing the things Jesus does, and, as he promises, “greater things than these will you do.” And sometimes we need to look within, to know the kind of passion and love that Rabia sings about in her poetry – a passion that also enables us to be here now – to be present in this moment as those people who not only love our neighbors but can love our enemies as well.

In my soul
there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church
that dissolve,
that dissolve in

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