I took some liberties this morning by naming my sermon after the song made famous in the late ‘60’s by the popular vocal group, The 5th Dimension. It seems like a good way to go when talking about the rather astounding Ascension of Jesus Christ. Luke describes the moment: Christ is lifted into the air as he is blessing his disciples. They witnessed the moment and rather than giving into fear, they worship Christ and return joyfully to their homes.
Our focus this morning should be more on the “why” in our gospel than in the “what”. Why did Christ ascend? Why did he do so in front of witnesses, his disciples? And, if we need to ask the what question, then what is the point of this out-of-the-ordinary moment for our lives? Well, the clue lies in the act of blessing in which Christ was engaged at the moment he was lifted up into heaven. As one commentator offers:
“Ascension Day is not so much about the physical act of ascension, or even about the reuniting of the incarnate Word with the unbegotten Source. Rather, it is concerned with the divine act of making space so that the mission of the church can begin. So long as God was in the world in human form, all eyes and hearts were fixed there. Jesus’ ascension makes space for the disciples to turn their gaze upon the world, where ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed…” ”
Making space allows for growth, for transformation, for creative responses to life’s challenges. If someone is doing too much for us, if all the questions we might ask about life, ministry and faith are too readily answered with slam dunk responses, then there is no place for us to find ourselves, to feel inspired to seek out our own answers, or to grow.
About a week or so ago, Time Magazine set off a firestorm by showcasing on its cover a 26-year-old mom with her three-year-old son breastfeeding. Not surprisingly, the cover raised concerned about over attached parenting and since the magazine hit the stands, there has been a generalized stream of either support for this kind of parenting or an outcry against it. Talk show hosts have found lots of choice topics and pro and con guests to support or oppose what has been dubbed “attachment parenting”. Is it a good practice to raise overly dependent children? What about the health of a marriage when the child shares Mom and Dad’s bed? As you can imagine, beyond the semi-honest attempts to discuss this topic with some seriousness, there are also those late night talk show personalities and stand up comedians that are finding a whole lot of one liners to offer their audiences. They are getting the laughs they are looking for; that is the business they are in but the fear, and it is a genuine fear, is that over protected and attached children will grow up to be overly stressed adults without a sense of self or the ability to make much of their lives. Just as productive adults influence society, non-productive adults affect us too. What is the cost, if any, to the family structure and the children who will one day be expected to function on their own and as intelligent, well-balanced adults? What’s the cost to society? Can we really expect children, coddled from birth, to be creative individuals with the ability to motivate and transform our rapidly changing world? These are fair questions.
Parenting has fluctuated between a variety of theories and models. Though my own parents were a bit too overprotected, they were clear that I needed to find myself and grow into a better sense of who I was and what I could be and what I might achieve. I lived and grew up in an age when parents knew that they needed to ready their kids for the larger world beyond the intimacy of family. We were expected to learn how to stretch our wings and fly from the home nest. For parents raising kids in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, their gift to their children was to step back, to make space for those kids to grow into the persons God had called them to be.
And that seems to be what Luke described here. Christ, while still in the process of blessing his disciples, withdraws from them and is lifted into heaven. He makes space for them to take up their ministries, in his name, and be about the work of discipling others. But even as Christ is lifted beyond the realm of our five senses, we are told that we are not left alone or without hope. Though the disciples would not see or hear or feel the presence of Jesus in the same way, they were being offered God’s ever present Spirit and life. Christ was laying on them a promise of another who would be with them always. It was his final gift to those who walked with him throughout his ministry; his final blessing and we have reaped the reward. We have received the same promise anointed by the same blessing. Like any good parent, God does not leave us without any hope or help when we need it. We try to be there for our children, even when they are no longer children, but adults, just like God is always there for us.
Steve Garnaas-Holmes, pastor, preacher, and poet writes in his column on this not-here-in-sight-but-in-spirit phenomenon as he offers a prayer for Ascension.
Master of Love, you have been taken from one place
and given in all places.
Released from one body, you now live in ours.
Lord of Love, you reign in my heart.
You are not absent, but within.
The power with which you create worlds,
raise the dead and heal all wounds,
the power of infinite love, lives in me.
Here in my heart, in all our hearts,
where love takes flesh as thoughts take song,
here in my heart your love sings.
Here in my heart is heaven,
and the Lord of Love,
reigning over all the universe.
I am your simple vessel, your humble home,
your sacred Body.
Together, we are your flesh.
We come into the world,
singing and dancing. 
Christ prepared his disciples to be his body, presence, love, and spirit in the world. He blessed them just as we give our blessing to our own sons and daughters as they make their way out into the world to pursue what God has called them to be and do. Strengthened by his words, by his promise of his Holy Spirit, which would always be with them, and by the anointing of his blessing, they were, just as we are ready to take up ministries of love and compassion, of healing and hope, of preaching and teaching, of song, pray, and service. Just like they were ready, we are ready to be God’s messengers, Christ’s followers, and the witnesses to what the power of the Holy Spirit can do in the world. It isn’t always easy to believe in something we can see with our eyes, feel with our hands, or hear with our ears, not always easy to resist the scoffs of those who have forgotten how to believe in something beyond their senses. But, as David Cunningham reminds us in his comments on this passage, “we are called to “awake our faith” to hold fast to Jesus Christ, who once dwelt among us but has now withdrawn heavenward. In doing so, he has “given place” so that another Advocate (the Holy Spirit of God) can lead us into all truth.” And I like Cunningham’s reminder. “…We are likewise called to a life of giving place to one another and trusting one another: in presence and also in absence, in death and also in life.”
As Christ was lifted from them, he blessed them and because they served Christ in life, we have received the same good news of God’s gracious love in Jesus Christ. Amen.