Selection from Haydn’s “Creation”
I mentioned in my blurb this week that the Ascension—this story of Jesus going into heaven—formed the basis of a book I read in a church library that attempted to prove the Bible was proof of alien visitation to earth. I will also say that if a cool-minded, rational person were presented with the choice of the Ascension of Jesus or the Visitation of the Aliens, the rational choice might very well be the Visitation of the Aliens. The Bible is a strange book, although I believe that other book was weirder without being smarter, if that makes any sense. But we should be glad to have this part of Jesus’ story, weird as it is, as long as we can hear it in a way that makes sense.
“Nothing can be more truly present and within all creatures than God himself with all his power,” Luther writes. Although I am from a very long line of Lutheran pastors, I’m afraid I’m not a particularly enthusiastic Lutheran partisan. Still in this case, I think Luther is right—where did this resurrected body go? You might as well say, where is God? Where does God live? “God in his essence is present everywhere, in and through the whole creation in all its parts and in all places, and so the world is full of God and he fills it all, yet he is not limited or circumscribed by it, but is at the same time above and beyond all creation…” So we give thanks to God for Christ’s ascension, so that Christ comes to us according to the Word wherever we may be. There is nothing so close to us, even if we cannot see it, or touch it, or feel it, or even believe in it than the power and majesty and mystery of God. “If Christ were not with me in dungeon, torture, and death, where would I be?” Luther asks.
That’s a good question. Christ is never closer to us than in our suffering, in our doubt, in our sorrow, and in our pain. It is precisely in our faithlessness that Christ’s word is most powerful. That news, I believe, should make us feel free and filled with courage. The ascension, in the Gospels, means that the disciples really were free—and they went everywhere. Doubting Thomas wound up in India. They all became acquainted with dungeon, torture, and death. And Christ was with them. If Christ were not with me in dungeon, torture, and death, where would I be?
On May 8th, a daughter of a pastor named Betty Rendon was driving her five-year-old to school. Not two minutes out of her driveway, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) pulled her over. They removed her from her car and put her in handcuffs. Then they drove her car—with her five-year-old still in the back seat, screaming so loudly her mother could hear her from the other car—back to her home. They seized the woman’s father as he was walking to his car on his way to work, and then forced him to open the door to the house. More and more ICE vehicles came, and a score of armed men forced their way into the home, where they pointed their weapons at a fifty-year-old pastor in her pajamas. All of this happened in front of a five-year-old girl, whom the officers stripped from her mother and grandparents. Betty Rendon and her husband were deported last week. Her daughter, a DACA recipient, was eventually released. She had been apprehended unlawfully to begin with. But as the law stands Betty and her husband will never be able to see their daughter or granddaughter again—they can’t go to her, and they can never return to the United States.
Betty Rendon is a pastor in our church. She was getting a doctorate in preaching from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. She was working with Spanish speaking Lutherans in Racine. She had never broken a law in the United States, save staying in the country when her asylum application was rejected. But apparently, she was such a threat to our national safety and security, she had to be arrested in her pajamas in front of her granddaughter and deported. If Christ is not with her in dungeon, deportation, and death, where would she be? Where would any of us be?
As many of you know, OSA is a Sanctuary church. We voted to do this a summer ago. It felt like we were simply affirming our identity, our identity not as good progressives or whatever, but as Christians. As people who believe in crazy things—like the presence of Christ at the right hand of God, of the face of Christ in the face of every person, as the command to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves as the most important thing to do in the world. The long grasp of evil seems even stronger now than it did then and has taken our church. You might take Betty Rendon out of the US, but you can’t take her out of the presence of Christ. Christ is always present—he is risen, he is here. He reigns.
Today we baptize Veronika into Christ, and into this crazy belief that we all share. He will always be there for her as he is there for us, whatever comes. Amen.
The Reverend John Zachary Flack