Yes, but How?
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
May 24, 2020 Seventh Sunday of Easter, Ascension Sunday
Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11
[You can watch a video recording of this sermon at the end of this text and you can see the entire On Line Service by clicking here.]
Last week my sermon talked about Paul Hawken’s 2007 book Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice and Beauty to the World. Hawken is referring to the combined social justice and environmental movement, unified by an ethic of the Golden Rule and sacredness of life. He ends the book saying, “I believe this movement will prevail…. It will change a sufficient number of people so as to begin the reversal of centuries of frenzied self-destruction behavior…. What will guide us is a living intelligence that creates miracles every second…” p 189-190
I ended my sermon saying, “The Holy Spirit’s living intelligence needs us to open to it and let it work miracles through us. It is here right now, within and around us all, and it wants us to succeed in healing and transforming the world to be God’s realm of love and life and light. We cannot know how this will happen, but we can trust that the Spirit will guide us to the structure and leaders we need if we keep working with it.”
More than one person responded to the sermon saying, “Yes, but how?” Yes, we have to change our civilization, but how can we create a new normal, how can we stand up against the massive powers that continue to drive humanity toward self-destruction?
It is true as I said last week that we have to trust and look to the Spirit for answers, but I can say more with the help of the story of Christ’s Ascension.
This week on the actual day of the Ascension I went up into the cemetery behind the Town House looking for a setting for the final frames of the Children’s Time video. I visited old friends there who had lived through the Great Depression, World War II and McCarthyism. I visited Justin Morrill who served in Congress as the United States plummeted into the Civil War and was instrumental in bringing new life to an exhausted, badly damaged nation after the war. I visited the Rev. William Sloane Coffin and told him how much we miss his vision and voice.
Those leaders of town and nation worked some miracles in their day. They may not tell us how we can work our own, but they show us that miracles are possible. Many of them sat in this sanctuary and found here the answer to their own questions of “Yes, but how.”
The disciples were were ordinary flawed and feeble people like us, but they worked miracles after Jesus left them. The Ascension story distills the entire message and ministry of Jesus into a few clear instructions that can help us see how to work miracles today.
First, the story reminds us that Jesus taught and transformed his disciples. He opened their minds to a new perspective.
The first practical answer to “Yes, but how,” is that we need to learn spiritual ways and we need to be transformed to a new developmental level of being. Paul Hawken, Ken Wilber and others believe this is happening increasingly. We don’t know whether it will happen fast enough and widely enough, but we do know that if we get serious about learning and growing and transforming we will make it more likely that we will reach the tipping point and create a new normal.
The second thing in the Ascension story is that Jesus sent the disciples out. Jesus sent them out as local organizers, teachers and healers, and he told them that they would do even greater works than his when he was gone. The Ascension Story makes it clear that they were not merely to memorialize or idolize him, they were to keep the movement going and growing.
This is the second answer to “Yes, but how.” We are part of a movement sent out to establish the realm of God’s love, compassion and justice on earth, a movement that organizes, teaches and heals as Jesus did. We have been sent out on a mission, and we need to think of ourselves and our congregation that way.
The third important thing in the Ascension story is that Jesus blessed the disciples. Jesus lets his followers know that they are beloved by God and entrusted with the work of God. That is part of what we are sent to do. We need to let people know that they are sacred, that their lives have a purpose and they each have a role to play.
Jesus gave a gift with this blessing. He promised his followers the same Spirit that guided and empowered him every step of his journey. They would be “clothed with power from on high.” This was an essential part of life in the first church. It was assumed that if you followed the way of Christ, the Spirit would be the most important part of your daily life.
This is the third answer to the question, “Yes, but how?” The contemporary Franciscan spiritual teacher, Richard Rohr, says that “The Holy Spirit is the answer to every prayer,” and as our children all know, “prayer” is the answer to every question, so I come back to where I ended last week, that the Spirit will show us how, and the Spirit will raise up leaders among us and give us vision and empower us each with different gifts to help create the movement and structure and new normal of the realm of God on earth.
But I am saying more than last week.
If we are learning about the sacred way, studying the spiritual masters, deepening our spiritual practice and we are actively engaged working for social and environmental healing and reform, then it becomes much more specific to say that the Spirit will show us how to go. It will teach us, send us, bless us, give us gifts, all specifically for our part in the movement.
And there is more: the Ascension story also tells us where to go. It shows us three realms we need to travel, or three relationships we need to cultivate. The first realm is community. Jesus tells the disciples to stay together. Bill McKibben says that the first thing an individual needs to do to address the climate crisis is stop being an individual. The Spirit certainly comes to us in our individual hearts, but it is exponentially more powerful when it comes to us in community.
The second realm is our neighbors. Jesus sent the disciples out of their safe-houses and down from the Mount of Olives into the city and countryside. The people we are sent to serve are not just our people, they are all people, and in fact they are all creatures, and in fact they are the earth itself.
The third realm is all important and is the easiest to lose sight of—it is the spiritual realm, an intimate relationship with God’s higher power. We are citizens of each of the three realms, our community, our earth and God, but it is this last one that reminds us who we truly are.
We are manifestations of the force that created the universe, we are the latest blossoming of the love and life and light that first bloomed on earth almost four billion years ago, and we are the bearers of that force’s seeds and hope for its future. It wants to work through us. The world is alive with the Spirit and it will guide and empower us every step along the way.
“Yes, but how?” Go find the teachings and inner transformation you need and then come back and tell us the answers you have found.
“Yes, but how?” Go out where you are sent, go out and use the gifts and skills you love to use, singing or speaking or writing or gardening or feeding or organizing or healing or teaching, whatever you love to do, go do it the best you can to serve the earth’s needs, and then come back and tell us the answers you have found.
“Yes, but how?” Go, knowing that you are blessed, you are holy, you are the bearer of the Spirit that the creator of the universe has brought to this time and place to love and serve as Jesus did. Go, listen to your heart and follow where the Spirit leads, and then come back and tell us the answer you have found.
“Yes, but how?” Ask that of one another in your community, ask that of the people who are hurting in Strafford and the Upper Valley, ask it of those suffering from racism, economic inequity or environmental injustice around the world, ask it of the earth itself, and then come back and tell us, and we will tell you our answers, too, and together we will form a movement of the Holy Spirit that is the greatest hope and the greatest “how” that we have.
Let us pray in silence, asking the Spirit to help us feel its presence and hear its direction…