The Ascention

The Ascension
Teaching Segment Notes
by Randell Neudorf
Sunday, April 29th, 2012
Luke 24:36-53 & Acts 1:1-11

A year and a half ago we started this epic journey of looking at the life of Jesus as if it were a movie. We were picking and choosing scenes to focus on. We would take one scene from the book of John and the next from the book of Mathew. We skipped over some parables not because they weren’t important but because we were focusing more on the overall story of Jesus and less on the individual words of Jesus. Today’s scene is the last scene in our movie. Today’s story would fade right into the end credits (complete with an epic top 40 song).

Today we look at the last day of Jesus’ physical life on planet earth. The movie going public were all taken in by the fake ending.  Jesus is dead, he is put in a tomb and the whole screen fades to black, the audience is waiting for the credits to roll, and are feeling cheated that they were tricked into seeing a tragedy.

I still remember when I was a kid the first time I saw a movie where the hero died. I was 6 years old and I was watching a western on TV. The good guy and the bad guy face off at the end like all westerns with a gun fight. They both draw, a shot is fired and the camera pans to a fallen cowboy. I immediately knew something had gone terribly wrong and the TV Company had made a horrible mistake. The cowboy in the white hat died! The bad guy killed him. I complained loud and long to my dad how that was so wrong. He tried to soften the ending for me by explaining the parts I had missed during my rant. Apparently after the black hated cowboy killed the white hated cowboy, the bad guy realized how wrong he had been and changed his ways. My dad said “See he became good, so really in the good guy didn’t die.” I was going to have none of it. I actually insisted that my Dad call the TV Company and complain to them for showing such a bad movie. I actually have a memory of my Dad on the phone telling the TV Company that we didn’t appreciate such movies where the good guys die. Thinking back on that memory I wonder if my Dad possibly faked that call and was just complaining to an empty line for my benefit.

Back to our Jesus story. The disciples were suckered in by the fake ending and were just as upset and disappointed as I was about the fallen cowboy. But surprise we got Easter Sunday, and resurrection, no one saw that coming. Pop corn is being spilt and people are collectively spraying their carbonated beverages on the seats (and people) in front of them.

Now this was definitely a fake ending, because we read in our script that Jesus took 40 days to wrap up this story after his resurrection, dispelling disbelief and doing some last minute teaching.

Before the credits roll we learn a couple things that lead us to believe that this is not a standalone movie with a beginning and an end. It is actually the first installment of a trilogy. Like the end of “Back to the Future” we are given a very brief glimpse of what comes next.

Before Jesus leaves the earth he promises his followers that he is sending his Holy Spirit. This is movie number 2.

When I was in university my friends and I use to take silent movies like metropolis (we saw a clip of that at the beginning of the Gathering) and watch them with the sound turned off. We would add a sound track from our own CD collection to make the movie more interesting. For a science fiction movie like metropolis we would add a sound track from something industrial like nine Inch nails (not actually owning any NIN today I used a song by Sufjan Stevens). Nothing was synced up; we would just load up the 5 disc CD player with something that we thought would be a good fit and then press play on the VCR. The amazing thing was that the music always fit, and more often than not it made us feel as if it was composed for the movie we were watching, with the emotions and musical changes happening in perfect sink with the images.

Now I don’t think the story of Jesus coming to earth and then returning to heaven is random but it is definitely a layering of 2 distinct things.

The readings that we heard today were both written by Luke. One was form the Gospel of Luke and the other one was from the book of Acts. Now Luke was a doctor and it is often noted that Luke is very fascinated as a doctor with Jesus being Human. Luke saw this juxtaposition as something amazing. He knew that Jesus was divine, that He was God who came down as a human. The story of Jesus’ Birth and his Ascension, His coming down and his going back into heaven are two mystical events with lots of angel sightings that bookend Jesus’ time on earth.

We are also told that The Holy spirit is going to come after Jesus leaves.

God desires layers, he doesn’t intend for us to do anything just sticking to the surface. God wasn’t content to just stay up in the sky and teach us and help us from a far. He placed his own divinity inside layers of flesh and became a man. This is why it was so hard for the people around Jesus to understand him. They just saw the outer layer of flesh and couldn’t comprehend the divine layer interwoven into that flesh.

God desires layers and part of his plan for people like us to follow him and to be part of his kingdom is for us flesh and blood humans to put on a layer of divinity, Jesus’ own Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that the Holy Spirit is making us into Gods but The Holy Spirit leads people in the ways of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is a layer of the Divine that weaves itself into us. It isn’t something I can explain or convince someone of who would doubt such things. I know it sounds a little more like science fiction or fantasy then reality. But I still know that the Holy Spirit is a reality.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Theologian whose life was cut short in a Nazi concentration camp. Here is what he wrote about the Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit is the living God, not some inert concept. The church community has to trust the Holy Spirit in every decision and believe strongly that the Spirit continues to be present in the community and at work in it. The Spirit will not permit our community to grope about to darkness, if only we are willing to take the Spirit’s teachings seriously…
From Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sermon for Whitsunday, 1940

The early church leaders got to learn from Jesus in person. They ate with him and they sat at his feet and they got to ask him any question they wanted to, but they didn’t really understand Jesus and his mission until He left them. When He left them and layered them with the Holy Spirit the disciples finally were able to understand what Jesus had been trying to teach them.  It wasn’t until Jesus the sequel was released as the Holy Spirit that things could really get moving, that the kingdom could begin to grow and spread.

We at The Commons have our own little part to play in this sequel of the Holy Spirit. We are one of the layers of this complex kingdom. How we do anything that has any value is by trying to pay attention to the Holy Spirit.

Even though I wouldn’t describe The Commons as a church community that is mystical or charismatic (two words that often linked to expressions of church that concentrate on the Holy Spirit) I think we are a community who are trying to follow the teachings of Jesus by listening to the Holy Spirit. We often try to look at Jesus’ teaching and ask what do they mean today, right now, for this small group of people, in this part of town.  I think our desire to ask those questions and to expect what we read to apply to us uniquely in the here and now is a part of us being layered with The Holy Spirit.

When we look for truth and spiritual inspiration in unlikely places, that is us looking through the lens of the Holy Spirit. The music I used today for the silent movie of Jesus going up to heaven was taken from a Canadian band called Holy F***. Now I’m pretty sure Holy F isn’t being used in a spiritual sense I think it is more a reference to what people say when they hear how good this band sounds. I don’t know what is going through their heads when they write their music but when I hear it I can’t help but hear an echo of their Creator’s love of beauty, complexity, and joy. That is the Holy Spirit revealing divinity in the layers.

Even the way we choose to structure our leadership at The Commons is a desire to pay attention to the Holy Spirit. The Cohort is what we call our leadership team at The Commons. Many other churches would refer to their leadership teams as a Board. Why don’t we have a board? Because most boards are structured on a business model. On people voting for what they think is best, and going with the will of the majority. That isn’t the Cohort. The Cohort is a team working together, trying to hear what the Holy Spirit is wanting our community to do. If we aren’t a mystical church hearing God speak out loud how do we know what the Holy Spirit is trying to say? I really believe that one of our tools for hearing the Holy Spirit is consensus. The Cohort makes decisions by consensus. We believe if each person on the Cohort is actively praying and thinking about a decision that we will all come to the same conclusion in the end. We think this is evidence of the Holy Spirit. We don’t believe that God is going to give me one message and someone else on the cohort something completely contradictory. This takes longer then voting but in the end when we make a decision, we are more confident that we are listening to the Holy Spirit if we are all in agreement.

This goes a step farther when we have a coffee talk. On big decisions the cohort calls a coffee talk and lets the community know what they are thinking and asks the community to pray and think about the decision as well. The Cohort looks to The Community to confirm what they think the Holy Spirit is asking the community to do.

It sounds strange to say these things out loud but I really believe it to be true and I have seen evidence of the Holy Spirit over and over again in this community.

So if Jesus’ Return to heaven was setting us up for a Trilogy. If the life of Jesus was episode 1, and the Holy Spirit teaching the Church is episode 2, what is episode 3?

In the book of Acts we read that:

“[Jesus] was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from [the Disciples] sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

That is Episode 3. Jesus is going to come back. We don’t talk about this a lot at The Commons, but if we believe that Jesus was really God wrapped in flesh and we actually believe He sent us the Holy Spirit and that this same Holy Spirit is actively leading the church and building the Kingdom, why can’t we believe that Jesus is coming back?

If Jesus lived as a real man and was raised from the dead, cheating death with a surprise ending in movie one, sending his Holy Spirit in movie two (I can’t help but think of Obi-Wan Kenobi appearing to Luke Sky Walker here), why wouldn’t Jesus return.

We don’t gloss over the angels announcing Jesus’ birth to a bunch of shepherds at the beginning of episode 1, why should we gloss over the idea of angels announcing that Jesus is coming back.

We sometimes talk about something called “ancient future” at The Commons. It is why we sing old hymns and encourage people to participate in things like Lent; while at the same time looking for spiritual truths in movies or pop culture. Many modern western theologians focus all their time on the Holy Spirit building a community in the here and now. The kingdom is all about the now and they don’t like to talk about Jesus coming again (or about heaven) because they think it is dangerous. They think that it gives people permission to ignore the present.

I don’t think that has to be true. Just like we sing old hymns and new pop songs we can focus on the here and now and what the Holy Spirit is calling us to be, but we can also remember a very old promise spoken from the mouths of angels minutes after the disciples saw their best friend Jesus disappear.

“This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Just like the Holy Spirit, this is a promise. It is OK for us to look forward to the future, to movie number 3 where Jesus returns. Like any final installment of a trilogy it is no use guessing what it is going to look like, it isn’t our job to figure out every minutia of what Jesus coming back might look like. That would be a waste of time, but it is our job to expect it, to wait for it, to be excited about the idea of Jesus coming back, for the final movie of this Trilogy to be release (here I’m having a hard time not thinking about Return of the King from Lord of the Rings trilogy).

Us Commoners often talk about how none of the trendy church words seem to fit our community (missional, emergent, monastic…). I think part of that is because we are trying to follow the Holy Spirit and not a church trend. We are willing to look at things that might not make a lot of logical sense, harder concepts like how does Jesus’ return fit in with us in the 20th century. That’s not considered to be very emergent, and it isn’t thought to be missional.

But it was promised to us for a reason. Promises are all about Hope, and Hope is one of our values and I think we need to allow ourselves to have hope, to believe in promises. I think knowing that our King is going to return can focus us on the Kingdom of God in the here and now. A kingdom needs a King.

Yes, we are in movie 2, but it doesn’t end with us. I need to know that.

If the kingdom is just about the here and now, it isn’t a very good kingdom. There is too much death and pain in the world and too much hate and infighting in the church for me to see the kingdom fully realized in the here and now. The Holy Spirit points us towards the finished kingdom, and we do our part to reflect that kingdom and work for justice and peace in everything we do, but we are not going to see perfect results in our neighbourhood.

That is what the promise about. Jesus is going to come back, trust that, don’t just stand there looking at the sky, get to work, but if the work gets too hard, I want you to remember the promise. Jesus is coming back.

The next series that we are going to be doing in our teaching segments is on the book of Philippians, written by the apostle Paul. Often communities that look a little like ours like to only stick with the story of Jesus and we don’t look for truth outside of that narrative. But if we can find God and Divinity in Movies and songs by bands called Holy F***. Surely we can be brave enough to look for what the Holy Spirit is teaching us through books by the Apostle Paul.

We are still going to be asking questions like “What does this mean for us right now?” and “Where do we see our values of Justice, Hope, Beauty, Authenticity, Truth, Community, and Peace. Where are they being reflected in Paul’s writings?” This won’t be as easy as looking at the gospels but it is part of who we are as a faith community.

This is all part of the idea of “Ancient Future” about looking at these old words to see how it applies to us right now, and we are definitely going to be looking for the holy spirit to help us to figure this stuff out, and when it gets really hard, and things don’t seem to make any sense, maybe we will look ahead to a promise. To Jesus’ Return, that it isn’t all on us to figure things out. There is a plan (even if we can’t see it), it started before us and it is going to be completed long after us, but we still get a part to play right now. It might be a bit part that the Commons gets to play on a global scale but our names are still going scroll by in the credits at the end of episode 2, a movie that started with Jesus going up to heaven, and will end with him coming back to earth.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think looking forward to Jesus Returning is a distraction or an empowerment? Or does it even matter?
  2. Is there anything you do that helps you “listen” to the Holy Spirit? Is there anything that makes you not be able to “hear” the Holy Spirit?
  3. What can we do as a community to be more intentional about listening to the Holy Spirit?

Video Segment: We did some creative editing with some old silent movies. To get the feel for what we experienced play and watch the first video (Christus) with the sound off at the same time as the second video (Latin America) with the sound on:

*Please Note that there is no objectionable content in the second video, I apologize ahead of time if anyone finds the band’s name offensive.