Dear Friends and Members of the United Church of Norman-UCC
This week we celebrate Ascension Sunday. Ascension Sunday is the time where Jesus offers his final words to his disciple, after which he ascends into heaven. Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit comes upon the church such that they are emboldened to become the church and act out the ministry of Jesus.
I want to explore the relation between Ascension Sunday and Pentecost because I believe in that relation hangs a tale that describes something about us, and our faith development.
To do so, I believe we need to suspend or bracket questions on whether it happened or not. We don’t live in a three tiered universe where heaven is up there and hell is down below and we are in the middle. In that sense, the story, taken as literal, provides a dead end.
Instead I want to look at the function of the story and compare it to Pentecost. In Ascension Sunday, Jesus leaves, his ministry is done. It is an experience of divine absence, and the disciples return from the experience afraid.
There is something recognizable in this movement, the way the divine steps aside, so that the church can step forward, take on its responsibilities. It may be like the teenager, the gradual stepping back required of parents, to give freedom to the child as they become an adult. I’d call this absence, not abandonment, big difference. But there is the movement, where the parents step out of way.
I remember being a freshman in college. The process and the move was so exciting. That was until my folks helped me unpack and then drove off. All of a sudden I realized I was alone. My folks lived 500 miles away and I had no idea what I was doing.
I often hear critiques of religion, that God is the ever attendant parent. The parent who will never let the kids grow up. The parents who must always be parenting the adult child well past it is time for the child to become an adult.
In Ascension Sunday, we do not have an account of a God who never will let us grow up. In fact we have a very different account. Jesus doesn’t stay. He doesn’t build a church, and he offers few instructions. Jesus is not building an empire, he says you too will do what I did and more so, hands the keys to the disciples. If that moment never happened, we may never had a church.
Now we are promised that we’re not alone. This is why the story of Ascension Sunday is not a story of divine abandonment. It is a story of divine absence. And there is a difference.
Because good parents don’t abandon their children, even as we know many who have. Rather good parents have your back. So for instance in college, you know you can always call the folks but you’re still the one alone in college, doing your homework, getting out of bed yourself. You can always go back home, you know you have support, and yet it is also up to you to finish the task.
That dance between our responsibility and divine support is the dance between Ascension Sunday, where we are on our own to complete the work that must be done and Pentecost, the promise of that backing, that support in that work.
With the experience of divine absence, the disciples return from that experience, afraid. Just like I was waiting for my folks to drive home. The sudden realization that I was being thrown into adulthood, whether I was ready or not. I will say I shed some tears that day. Even if by the second day in college, the possibilities seemed to open up.
I think we skip over that feeling of absence and can often rush to celebrate Pentecost, that support, that feeling and spirit of divine presence which is so important to us.
But you need Ascension Sunday to have it happen. Just like you need Lent for Easter to happen, Advent for Christmas, preparation for consummation. In our culture we don’t get too many messages that indicate faith as a process, a journey, something that might involve this movement, this growth, this maturation. This Sunday we will stop to ponder this.
Rev. Dwight Welch
May 28th Sunday
Adult ed at 9: 45 a.m Criminal Justice Reform, the urgency of now.
After church at 12:00 p.m Social Justice committee will meet to discuss the Peace and Justice activities this summer and OKC Pride.
And we’ll be raising money for one of the 5 for 5 ministries of the United Church of Christ.
On May 28th please consider making a donation to STRENGTHEN THE CHURCH. This is one of the five missions that our congregation supports through the United Church of Christ. Strengthen the Church is a special mission to reimagine and build the future of the UCC. It largely supports youth ministries and full-time leaders for new churches in parts of the country where the UCC voice has not been heard. As God calls our congregations to be the church in new ways, these donations will plant new churches, awaken new ideas in existing churches, and develop the spiritual life in our youth and young adults.
June 4th Sunday
Conversation Sunday will be focused on Transgender Faith with a shared potluck and discussion.
We’re discussing the new novel by Anthony Doerr at Nancy Logan’s home 3200 Summit Bend at 7pm.
Resident and Shelter Needs include soap, cleaning supplies, furniture, diapers. Kitchen Needs are dry sealed foods. Care Packets for the homeless include deodorant, self care products, snack foods
Given the number of paper products we use for our morning gatherings and conversation box the Social Justice committee has set up a recycling box to discard those items. Look for it on Sundays!