“Left Behind Body” sermon from Ascension Sunday

Message Manuscript for “Left Behind”   John 17:6-19
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
7th Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2015


“I just don’t know what I am going to do now” is what the man sitting next to me said with a tremble in his voice and tears in his eyes.  His wife had recently died, ending the life he had known with her for almost 50 years.  “She was my life and we looked forward to enjoying the golden years together we have been planning all this time.”  As I listened on, I could clearly see that she was his reason for living and he truly had no idea what he would do with his life.  I was in another conversation with a friend this past week and heard something similar, describing someone in her family whose child recently died after years of battling a debilitating disease.  Her purpose in life every minute of the day was to take care of someone who often could not do much more than breathe on her own.  Now that her daughter is gone, she wonders what to do with the hours of her day and what to do with her life.

Ever feel like that?  Do you ever wonder what your purpose is in life?  I’m thinking the disciples were in that place of quandary and uncertainty after Jesus died.  Just as they were starting to grieve his departure from them, he shows up, risen from the dead and with them once again. Their hearts burned strangely and their joy was ebullient as he—their reason for living—was back with them.  But, as we have heard from Luke’s gospel this morning, he leaves them again, ascending out of their sight and into heaven.  Just when they were starting to feel like they understood life again, he takes off.  Some of them were so distraught that they couldn’t move.  They stayed right there where they saw him last and kept staring into the clouds.  Others walked on, but no doubt just as confused as those among them with frozen gaze and feet.

I’m not sure what their conversation was in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’s ascension, but I’m pretty sure there was some discussion of what it all meant.  There must have been a rehashing of the things Jesus had said, especially those stories and lessons he gave them that never made sense at the time, like not wanting to leave them as orphans in the world, or when he talked about going away but then coming back to take them with him.  At some point, the words we have heard in Jesus’s prayer in John’s gospel this morning (John 17:6-19) must have been a subject of their conversations together.  We are able to eavesdrop on one of the most intimate things one person can do for another as Jesus prays for his disciples.    The words here in these verses reveal Jesus’s deep affection for them, his concern for their protection in his absence, his concern for their unity, and affirmation of their calling.  In addition to all of that, he prayed that they might be reminded by God of their purpose in life after he left them, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”(v.18)  Jesus was leaving them, but leaving them with a purpose.  They were to live as he lived, sent out into the world just as he was sent into it. Even in the midst of the dark emptiness of their grief and intense sadness, they could know how they were to spend the rest of their lives.  Yes, Jesus was gone from them but his life wasn’t over.  In a way, it was just beginning. And the world needed to see even more of it.

On this seventh Sunday of Easter, we might find ourselves in the disciple’s place, looking back on the cross, the empty tomb, the resurrection, and, now, the Ascension, wondering what we are to do now.  What is it all about?  What does any of it have to do with right now, with the future?  Coming to church is great and all, but is it really necessary?  What’s the point of it?  You might have wondered all of this as you heard the alarm chime for you to get out of bed this morning.  Church?  What’s the point?  Apparently, you may not be the only one who wonders about the purpose of church these days , as revealed in a study that was published this past week. Nearly 1out of 5 have dropped out of church and Christianity, showing significant decline in attendance in our nation.[i]  The responses show that people are still interested in spirituality; they just no longer find the church having any purpose for them and for the world. Perhaps what this shows even more is the church’s failure to understand—and convey–why it exists as the body of Christ in the world of today.

What about you?  Obviously you are still here, still finding some purpose in church.  After all, you got up and came here today.  What is your reason for being here?  What is our reason for gathering in this building every Sunday at 11:00am? Is it to gaze upward, either literally or spiritually, at the heavens and wonder where Jesus went or when he is coming back, shaking our heads collectively about how screwed up the world is, talking and singing about that day when we evacuate this horrible world for the one with streets of gold?  For some churches this is so.  For others, being left behind means time waiting on heavenly rescue is spent combating the forces of evil—like drinking, gay marriage, evolution, and immigration—as the purpose of the church until it can be raptured.  Is this really what Jesus had in mind for the church as he prayed such a powerful prayer for them? Or, is there something else he intended?

As Church for the Highlands, we are to make sure we understand that “something else”.  We must continually check ourselves to make sure we are not drifting away from our central purpose of being a group of people who are living as an answer to Jesus’s prayer, as those who have been “sent” into the world.  We do this by remembering that we no longer belong to this world, but have been left here to exist as the body of Jesus in it.  We are to go out in our neighborhood and world as Jesus went with his body into his.

What does that body look like and how can we know we have it as a church?  One way is to see if our body is in motion.  Like when Jesus’s body was on this earth, we are to be one that lives out its “sent” nature.  In other words, we will look and be like Jesus when we are on the move as a church, constantly going out and into the streets, homes, sicknesses, injustices, and lives of people we come into contact with every day.  Another way to identify our body is by looking for bruises, remembering that Jesus had them and so will we when we live like he did—out beyond the comforts and confines of religious institutions.  They aren’t badges of honor nor do they indicate a sadistic personality; they are, rather, the inevitable results of working with God in our rough and tumble world.  Along with the bruises, though, we should also see a body that has been resurrected.  Like Jesus’s body, we can’t be buried.  The life that is within us cannot be extinguished.  Our body of Christ is one which is risen, risen indeed, shining brightly and revealing grace and truth to everyone we come in contact with.  Our world is dying to see a living church; a real life flesh and blood body of Christ.

[i] http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/chapter-2-religious-switching-and-intermarriage/

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