Seventh Sunday of Easter 1 June 2014
(Acts 1:6-14 Psalm 68 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 John 17:1-11)
“Left Behind for One Reason!”
In today’s first lesson from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard the story of Jesus’ ascending to heaven. Now, let me share with you another “going away” story.”1
“Well, I’ll tell you what I think,” said the little man. “You see, when I came to this country it was in a balloon. You also came through the air, being carried by a cyclone. So I believe the best way to get across the desert will be through the air. Now, it is quite beyond my powers to make a cyclone; but I’ve been thinking the matter over, and I believe I can make a balloon.”
“How?” asked Dorothy.
“A balloon,” said Oz, “is made of silk, which is coated with glue to keep the gas in it. I have plenty of silk in the palace, so it will be no trouble to make the balloon. But in all this country there is no gas to fill the balloon with, to make it float.” “If it won’t float,” remarked Dorothy, “it will be of no use to us.”
“True,” answered Oz. “But there is another way to make it float, which is to fill it with hot air. Hot air isn’t as good as gas, for if the air should get cold the balloon would come down in the desert, and we should be lost.”
“We!” exclaimed the girl. “Are you going with me?” “Yes, of course,” replied Oz. “I am tired of being such a humbug. I’d much rather go back to Kansas with you and be in a circus again.”
“I shall be glad to have your company,” said Dorothy.
“Thank you,” he answered. “Now, we will begin to work on the balloon.”
So Dorothy took a needle and thread, and as fast as Oz cut the strips of silk into proper shape the girl sewed them neatly together. First there was a strip of light green silk, then a strip of dark green and then a strip of emerald green. When it was finished they had a big bag of green silk more than twenty feet long.
Then Oz painted it on the inside with a coat of thin glue, to make it airtight.
“But now we must have a basket to ride in,” he said. So he sent the soldier with the green whiskers for a big clothing basket, which he fastened with many ropes to the bottom of the balloon.
When it was all ready, Oz sent word to his people that he was going to make a visit to the great brother Wizard who lived in the clouds, and everyone came to see the wonderful sight.
The Tin Woodman had chopped a big pile of wood, and now he made a fire of it, and Oz held the bottom of the balloon over the fire so that the hot air that arose from it would be caught in the silken bag. Gradually, the balloon swelled out and rose into the air, until finally the basket just touched the ground.
Then Oz got into the basket and said to all the people in a loud voice: “while I am gone the Scarecrow will rule over you. I command you to obey him as you would me.” The balloon was by this time tugging hard at the rope that held it to the ground, for the air within it was hot, and this made it so much lighter in weight than the air without it.
“Come, Dorothy!” cried the Wizard. “Hurry up, or the balloon will fly away.” “I can’t find Toto anywhere,” replied Dorothy, who did not wish to leave her little dog behind. Dorothy at last found him. She picked him up and ran towards the balloon.
She was within a few steps of it, and Oz was holding out his hands to help her into the basket, when, crack! went the ropes, and the balloon rose into the air without her.
“I can’t come back, my dear,” called Oz from the basket. “Good-bye!”
All eyes were turned upward to where the Wizard was rising in the basket, rising every moment farther and farther into the sky until they could see him no longer.
The people remembered him lovingly, and said to one another: “Oz was always our friend. When he was here he built for us this beautiful City. The Wizard, he is gone, but we are still here; we have been left behind.”
In every “going away” story, the people left behind are the ones feeling left out, forgotten and hurt. This past Thursday, our church calendar celebrated Ascension Day, Jesus “going away” to be with his Father. We also heard the story in today’s First Reading from Acts of the Apostles.
This is the ultimate “left behind” story. Jesus leaves, the disciples stay. Yet, this “going away” story is different.
In the story of Jesus going to heaven, being “left behind’ is an honor, a calling. It really is a commissioning, a sending out to do the work of the One leaving. Being left behind on the day Jesus ascended to his Father, is really an invitation to participate in the glory of the Father.
That may not initially sound like a big deal, but as I emphasized in last week’s sermon, in John’s Gospel, “Eternal life,” “glory,” “relationship with God”—these are not things waiting somewhere in the future. “Eternal life,” “glory” and “relationship with God” are all around us, here, today. When we do the things Jesus does…..healing, feeding, caring, listening, sharing, making real the grace and mercy of God—the glory of God shines fiercely in our world. When we truly come to believe that everything we do that genuinely cares for the world and the people God loves so deeply—work, play, family life, civic involvement, volunteer opportunities—is the way God’s glory shines—then we’ve begun to understand the privilege, the invitation, and the challenge of being “left behind.”
In John’s Gospel, concepts like “glory” and “eternity” and “relationship with God” are always in the present tense—they are happening now, today, not in the future. And God is with us now, and the Advocate, the Holy Spirit is also here to help us flourish, to thrive, to prosper, to participate in the amazing promises of being united with each other and with God!
Finally…..if, indeed, this worship space is “…a living body when we are gathered…” (as we will celebrate later today), then is not our invitation today to become “a new living body”, no less? Not a little amazing that on this weekend when we dedicate this renewed worship space, when we also welcome an interim pastor onto our staff, might God be speaking to us yet again? And could the words be similar to the words of the angel on the mountain of the Ascension: [a little paraphrase, but I think I can hear the angel speaking to us as she says:] “People of St. James, why do you stand looking around you? There’s work to be done! It’s time to get going, time to move forward. Something new is waiting to begin.”
My friends, we know we have been “left behind” for one reason, one reason alone: for the life of the world! Amen.
1The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.