Holy Ephemera, June 2

Holy Ephemera

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 147; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; Luke 24:44-53

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church, June 2, 2019

 

The long-time organist at Simpson Memorial UMC in Palenville, Fan Roberts, died in December.  Her memorial service was two weeks ago.  I heard many stories about Fan, one of which explained why she took one Sunday in June off each year.  She and her husband and son went to Hampton Beach to look at sandcastles.  And sand statues and sand skyscrapers and sand dinosaurs, etc.  Artists gather in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, each June to create amazing works in sand, which are sprayed with a mixture of school glue and water that allows them to stand for a week or two, but then they, like every sand castle you ever built, are washed away by the tides and the rains.  And crowds, like Fan and family and many others, gather to watch them create these wonderful things.  The sand sculptures are impermanent, intended to last for only a short time before they disappear entirely.  But the work that goes into their creation is intense – it can take an entire day to build a horse and chariot or a child dancing with butterflies in waves of sand.  Why do they do it?  Why does anyone create art?  Because it’s beautiful.

 

Sand sculpture isn't the only ephemeral art, created only for the moment.  Music also happens in the moment.  The band on the boat yesterday was excellent. The dancing that accompanied the music was a joy to watch and to participate in, but the pictures I took just can’t quite tell the story, nor could my attempt to explain the day to my husband on the phone replace the music and the dance and the experience of it all on the river.  Last month’s performance of the Treble Choraliers concert was quite wonderful.  It's over now.  The songs will be performed again someday, possibly even here, by the same group,  but it won't be the same thing.  Live music is in the moment, and then it’s over, complete.  When I sing in a concert, there's a certain sadness at the end of the performance, mixed in with the joy of having been a part of it.  It's difficult to hand in my music after a concert, knowing that this music I've lived with for the past few months will fade in my heart and in my ear, though I have loved it.  If you miss a Sunday here at Catskill United Methodist church, you will have missed the anthem and the prelude.  Even if the choir sings the piece again, which we often do, it will be a new experience, not a re-creation of the old. 

 

All of this points to the oddness of our life lived in real time.  We think of our lives as static, solid, definable by where we live and what we do and whom we know and what we remember of times gone by.  Sometimes we focus on the future – what it might hold, what we might fear of what it will bring, what dreams might be fulfilled in its scope.  Ultimately, however, we live right here, in the now of the moment.  We may be formed by both our past experiences and our dreams, but our living happens right now, as we listen, or count the blue windows, or doodle on the bulletin, or re-read the words of the last hymn. 

 

Today is the celebration of Jesus' Ascension, the day, forty days after his resurrection (which was really last Thursday, to be precise) in which he left his earthly existence and ascended into the glory of the Father.  Jesus speaks to his disciples about spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth and then, When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

 

That's it.  That's all they get.  Jesus who had been with them, who died and rose again and had walked with them and eaten with them and fed them fish and wisdom was gone from their midst.  It was a very 'in the present' moment, because they couldn't depend on anything they'd ever been through before to guide their steps.  There was probably a part of their souls that mourned because he was gone, but there was little room for sadness because he had 'gone before them into glory,' and they had to have solid hope that, again, this was not the last word.  But for the moment, all there was was the now. 

 

We have perspective on their situation.  We have heard the story and sung the hymns.  We have heard sermons and proclamations about Ascension which have given it a distinct theological slant.  We celebrate the Ascension as a witness to Jesus' lordship over all things.  He is alive in glory – at the right hand of the Father.  In a week, at Pentecost, the theological proclamation continues.  The gift of the Holy Spirit, the ongoing presence of God in our midst, arrives and fills the disciples with power so that they go forward into mission and to transform the world in love.  The power of love is the same love they experienced in Jesus by their side, but now it’s in them, in us, and it becomes our mission to tell and show the world the love of God. But they didn’t know all that then. 

 

Today I'm taken by the heart of the disciples at the Ascension, because I find it challenging to sit in moments of uncertainty.  I find it hard, sometimes, simply to be in the moment, without knowledge of what lies ahead or insistence of explanation because of what has gone before.  That's where the disciples find themselves after the Ascension.  And it's where we often find ourselves as well.

 

We know we only live in the present.  It's a logical deduction about the way time works.  Often it seems as if our lives are set in stone, locked into place by decisions and actions of months and years past.  We are who we are, and nothing is going to change that.  Except that deep down we know we have changed, and we can change again.   We can decide to walk in the rain or to make a new recipe, to say hello to a neighbor we’ve argued with or to explore an old road we’ve never taken before.  We can decide to spend our evenings differently, writing notes to old friends or letters to the editor about what’s happening now.  We can write to legislators, insisting that they live in present, too, recognizing the needs of real people, opening their eyes to the suffering of the poor or to patterns of injustice that they haven’t yet chosen to see.

 

It's helpful to remember that the now is all we really ever have.  It's helpful to remember that just as art happens in the now, so all that we do finds meaning in the doing. Often the beauty of art is as much in the act of creating as it is in the finished product.  Joy is found in the singing, in the building of a sand castle, in the creation of beautiful cookies and the eating together, in the writing and gardening and story-telling.  The life we are offered in Jesus is in the happening of life, not in the fantasy of a static world.

 

Creating something that is beautiful but will not last is an act of faith.  It is a declaration that life is worth the beauty of the moment.  So sing and serve beautiful food, paint pictures that may never hang on a wall, make jokes with people in stores you'll never see again, tip the waiter in Schenectady on your way through.  The now is all we really have, and joy and love are what we have to share.  Choose to live the love now.  And now.  And now, too.  Amen.

 

Acts 1:1-11

1In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

 

Psalm 47 (UMH 781)

Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.

For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.

He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.

He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves.

God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.

For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.

God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.

The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.

For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.

 

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

12“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates…. 16“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 17The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift…. .

20The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

 

Luke 24:44-53

44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.