The Spirit will guide us toward God

  • May 7, 2010
Ascension of the Lord (Year C) May 16 (Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Luke 24:46-53)

We should beware when our perception of God’s will meshes too smoothly with our own fears, desires, worldview and opinions. While God has His own purpose and plan, human beings have their own — and it is usually of a very different and far less noble nature.

Religious symbols and God language are often hijacked or twisted for selfish political, economic and religious ends. It happened long ago, it happened throughout history, it continues today and all religions are guilty. As the risen Jesus appears to the disciples He attempts to continue teaching and encouraging but they have only one thing on their mind: an unprecedented display of political and military power. They want the Romans out and the Kingdom of Israel restored and they believe that is what Jesus is about. But Jesus brushes aside their excited and anxious questions by telling them in so many words that it is none of their business, that is up to God, and they shouldn’t even be concerning themselves with such things.

At stake are conflicting views of power. The power represented by Jesus is the spirit that He promises them repeatedly. It will be given for service, ministry, witness, encouragement and spiritual enlightenment — not for domination and control nor for waging war or imposing one’s will on others. As the followers of Jesus watch Him “ascend” they receive a salutary warning from the two white-robed and presumably angelic figures: stop gawking at the sky, Jesus is not “up there.” Be about the business of life but with a completely renewed focus and purpose. When Jesus comes again you will know it — just let Him find you living and loving as He taught you.

We must understand the passage from Ephesians in this light. Christ is depicted as an all-powerful ruler, one who has subjected all opposing powers to Himself. But it is Christ, not Christianity, that is in this position of power. It must never be used to bolster an attitude of triumphalism or institutional structures. The image is a way of communicating to us the assurance that God is in ultimate control and that evil cannot long triumph. God’s purpose for humanity is being worked out in our very messy and chaotic world. The spirit of “wisdom and revelation” that the author of Ephesians prays for will reveal to us that we can be part of this and share in the spiritual riches of God if we so choose. Our lives have as much meaning and purpose as we want them to have but we must open our minds and hearts to the spirit of God.

Suffering is never easy to deal with or understand and it is even more difficult to handle when well-meaning people smother it with pious platitudes and clichés. An even greater difficulty is encountered when the suffering person is one who is not supposed to suffer or die — in this case, Jesus the Messiah of Israel. The suffering and death of Jesus was one of the biggest stumbling blocks faced by the first generation of Christians. In the Emmaus story, Luke’s Jesus teaches two of the earliest disciples the divine necessity of His suffering and death. The passage demonstrates how the first Christians re-read the Old Testament through a Christ-centred understanding of salvation history. Suffering and struggle is part of the human condition and even more so for those who take Christ’s teachings seriously and try to follow in His footsteps. Redemptive suffering does not mean some sort of masochistic self-punishment. Gratuitous suffering has no value; only when it is undertaken for the sake of others and accepted patiently and without resentment does it hand over its blessings.

Luke’s Jesus insists that his followers remain in Jerusalem (unlike Galilee as in Mark and Matthew) until they are clothed with power from on high — the Spirit. This is the long-promised gift of the indwelling presence of God. It will give His broken followers new life, courage, wisdom, strength and joy, and they will need them all for their mission to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to the entire Earth.

In this age of uncertainty, disillusionment and negativity that we face this gift of the Spirit is more needed than ever. We cannot make it on our own — the Spirit enables us to walk hand-in-hand with God.