Sunday after AscensionEphesians 1:15-23
1 June 2014
Elizabeth M. Deibert
Thursday was the fortieth day of Easter season when we remember Jesus’ Ascension. The disciples watched as he was taken up and away to greater tasks, beyond us with God, praying with us and for us, accomplishing work far more than we can ask or imagine, though we do see in a mirror dimly and with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we get glimpses into this glory. This week-end, we have seven young women at Peace have ascended the platform of their high school graduation to commence a whole new life as young adults. Sarah, Emily, Liz, Danielle, Julie, Amanda and Abigail, you have ascended to adulthood, although we do offer you this grace period in young adulthood called college, a time when you get to focus on your calling and your purpose in life. It is a rich season of life filled with hope for the future, a time to grow in your awareness of value of your inheritance, and to harness the greatness of power that God has given you to do good things.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (NRSV)
Paul gave thanks for the new Christians in Ephesus, and we give thanks for the young Christians we have watched mature in faith over these last several years. As most of you know, Neil, our youth pastor, hated to be away this Sunday.
Here are his words to you: There are few things that would keep me away from being with you today, and holding my granddaughter for the first time is one of them.
My guess is that there's somebody sitting beside you right now who remembers when you were that little. And seated around you are a lot of "old" people who, when they look at you, remember their own children and grandchildren, and their own graduation. That's why all these people around you (that you hardly know) are smiling. They see your bright face, and see memories and hope; they feel joy and laughter. They probably want to pick you up and hug you, but that would be weird, so they just shake your hand and beam.
The thing I love so much about babies is that they remind me of the relationship I aspire to have with my Father: blissful, content, fed, assured ...held in a warm embrace. And so that's my personal, rather un-theological advice to you this graduation. Don't become an adult. Instead, seek to be a child of your Father in heaven. For from him you have come, and to him you will return. And in-between, hug.
Neil sent me an email today saying, “Holding the granddaughter is more special than I imagined. It's like hope in a blanket.” Grads, your parents experienced that hope when they first held you, and they had that hope fill their hearts with gratitude again when they watched you walk across the stage at graduation. And now instead of you, it is they who need a security blanket as you are leaving some of you, and even if you’re not leaving yet, you are definitely moving to a new level of responsibility. They have given you roots, now it is time for you to use your wings and soar like eagles.
Paul prays for his friends, as we pray for all of you that may have a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you grow in your relationship with Christ.
In relationship to Christ, the eyes of your heart are enlightened, and you are given eyes to see with your heart, so that you may know the hope to which God has called you. That hope is your future, which you are now going out to discover, with more independence than ever before. Whether you are living at home or going away to college, this next season of life is one of discovering who you are called to be and what you are called to do. Remember that your calling is from God, and whatever you do, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God. Whatever you do with your life, glorify God in it. That’s what it means to have a vocation when you are a Christian – to serve Christ in whatever you are doing.
With God you always have a future filled with hope because fulfilling your calling is to become more like Christ, whether you are living or dying. It’s like the story Peg told me yesterday about the young man who got up at his grandma’s funeral to speak after several people had made their heart-wrenching eulogies. He walked to down the aisle and to the pulpit saying, “This is NOT a sad day. My grandma loved the Lord. This is NOT a sad day.” As Christians, no matter what happens in our future, we are people of hope, like that young man and his grandma. For we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope never disappoints us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the power of Christ’s Spirit at work in us.
Your past is your heritage, your parentage, what you inherit from your family and special friends. What Christ has done for you in the past and what Christ’s Spirit is doing for you in the present is what gives you that hope for the future. Don’t think of your past, in terms of error. Yes, learn from your experiences of failure, but don’t live in fear of the future because of past failures, or you will rob yourself of a fruitful present.
With your past pains and griefs, as well as all the things of your inheritance that give you hope, remember this: you can take out the photo album whenever you want. You can take a whirl through the pics on your phone or Facebook whenever you want. And as someone who is grieving said to me this week, “I can take the pain off the shelf and cry about it, and then I can put away.” That’s the nature of hope, knowing that you can deal with the pain of life, and put it away through prayer. As the late Maya Angelou, a woman who survived both rape and racism said, You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
Remember that you are beloved by God and made children of God, not because of your good behavior in life or your good grades in college, but by Jesus Christ’s human-divine nature. That’s why you have a glorious inheritance. You don’t earn an inheritance. It is passed to you. You have inherited through Christ, the glory of God. Wow, now that is wealth – the kind of wealth the world cannot give! God takes all the mess of your human condition, all the failures, all the frauds, all the wounded feelings, and says to you, “Here, I am making you perfect. Work with me on this. I am creating a masterpiece of you. Cooperate with me.
By my grace and love you are becoming just you are intended to be – even if right now you feel like a hot mess. You are not. You are my beloved - always will be. Operate out of that identity, not all the name-calling and labels that others and you yourself have slapped on your back to weigh you down with shame and insignificance. Shine in the light of my love, Christ says to you. The Spirit whispers this to you every day. Are you listening? It’s like cute little 2 year-old Lia, whom Catherine babysits, who when she is lying down for her nap, looking up with adoration in her eyes, and saying to Catherine, “Capin, you are my best friend.” That’s the kind of childlike adoration and trust and joy we can have in the loving embrace of the Holy Spirit, our caregiver.
Your future is full of hope. From your past, you have a wonderful inheritance in Christ with all the saints. But we are Christ’s body moving in the future. We have a legacy in Christ, and we create a legacy for Christ by how we live in the present by his power. Let’s try to live in the present. I know often with high school seniors, it gets tiresome to hear the same question all year: So what’s next? What college? Then in college, the question is always, “What are you majoring in? And what are you going to do with that degree?” That’s when it is important to live in the present. Older people need to live in the present too –not fretting too much over the things that are past, and not worrying about the things in the future, when they will most assuredly have less control.
Live in the present because the present is full of possibilities. Sometimes people get stuck worrying about their past, and they get depressed because all they can see of their past is disappointments or failures. They forget the inheritance of the saints, made saints by Christ’s love. Sometimes people get stuck worrying about the future. The future is filled with hope but also with uncertainties and yes some hurts and disappointments there too. Don’t be anxious, but in everything by prayer with thanksgiving, let your needs be known to God. Uncertainties and disappointments cannot be avoided. We can only prepare for them with confident hope that all things ultimately work together for good to those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes.
So as the saying goes, the past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. But the present is now, live in it. If you are depressed you are living to much in the past. If you are anxious you are living too much in the future. Be at peace with God and with humanity by living in the present.
The present is pregnant with possibility because of the immeasurable greatness of the power of God at work in you.
When you know to whom you belong and the wealth of your inheritance as a child of God, when you know that your future is promising not because you will roll from success to success, but because your future is in growing in Christ-like-ness, then you will have the power to live with greatness in the present. Your present will be great because you are not troubled by your past but empowered by your experience of it. Your present will be great not because you have your future secured, but by the fact that you know the One in whom you have ultimate security and hope – Jesus Christ. And in him and with him and through him, you will one day graduate not from high school or college, but you will graduate from this earthly life and all of its struggles.
I opened with words from Pastor Neil to you, and I want to close with words from your former youth pastor to you. Tricia sends these words to you from Montreat, where she is currently preparing small group leaders for weeks 1 &2.
Remember your faith. Remember it by reading your scriptures, by going to worship, and by praying. Faith does not happen alone, it takes a community.
And remember to love. To love God with all you have, to love yourself, and to love one another. This community we’re called to be in can be such a mess that sometimes we’d rather walk away. Don’t. Don’t walk. Don’t turn away. Love even when it really hurts. It will. But love anyway. Remember we are all children of God, and some days it’s easier to love God’s children than others. That applies to you, too.
And finally, remember hope. I think this can be one of the hardest things to remember. Because when you put yourself out there, and you have prayed, and you have loved, and nothing changes, or worse-it seems the whole world is against you, remember to choose hope. Remember you are a vessel for God’s deep love in this world. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong, but when we are faced with the two options of cynicism or hope, I pray you choose hope.