The following sermon was delivered on June 5th, 2011 by Rev. Christine Elliott at Calvary Church, United Methodist.

When Pope John XXIII was elected more than 50 years ago, he was asked what he planned to do first as head of the Roman Catholic Church.  He replied:  “We are going to open the windows and let in some fresh air!”

The Scripture lessons from Luke-Acts this morning focus on Christ’s Ascension – not an aspect of our tradition that we normally spend a lot of time on!  We are told that after Easter morning, the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples and followers in many different ways for a period of time (40 days).  Then he took his final leave from them and ascended to Heaven.  But he did not do so without parting instructions – and those instructions were about opening the windows…and letting in the fresh air.

Jesus’ followers were directed to wait – to wait together – to wait together for the Holy Spirit.   The Spirit would empower them to be Christ’s witnesses – in their city, in their region, and out into the wider world.

I realize that many of us have trouble waiting – I often do myself, growing impatient at the slightest delay.  We have places to go, people to see, things to do and no time to sit around!  🙂  We have grown accustomed to multi-tasking, to being on the move, to being busy.  We are immersed in a culture that teaches us to be productive all the time, that says we are valued according to what we accomplish and that we must be “masters of our own situation.”

Yet instead of the instruction, “Don’t just sit there, DO something” – Jesus’ mandate is:  “Don’t just do something, sit there!”

The message of Ascension Day is that those of us who love Jesus and desire to follow him must wait. . .  wait together . . .  wait together for the Holy Spirit.  Rather than crashing our way through the undergrowth, charting our own course or flailing in our attempt to do something. . we are told to wait for the promise of God to be fulfilled, for the moment when we will receive the power of the Spirit.

In the words of Rev. Catherine Taylor of Blacksburg VA:

Jesus says, “Stop worrying about having things the way you want them and wait for something else, a power that is coming. A gift is on the way. Wait for it.”

A gift is on the way – wait for it!

Rev. Taylor reminds us that:

“We celebrate the Ascension because we’re no different from the early church who gathered around this story from the beginning to hear what they needed: the news that they were going to receive power. And perhaps even more importantly, we celebrate this day to be reminded that we have no power of our own and never have.”

What does it mean  – on the very day that we celebrate the life of Calvary Church and reflect on a year together in discipleship and ministry – to say that our church  has no power of our own?  What does it mean right now for our church to be “higher powered,” as they say in the recovery movement?  As we imagine the road ahead, as we seek to dream holy dreams and see Christ’s intention for our future. . . what does it mean for us to stop, put away the markers and newsprint and just wait. . . wait to be clothed with “power from on high?”  (Luke 24:49)

I think it means we all have to become sailors.

Now I myself haven’t ever sailed except once – with our friend Bob on a small lake in Freedom, New Hampshire.  We were in a tiny Sunfish sailboat, hardly big enough for two.

There are others of you know much, much more about sailing than I do!  But I do know that the basic goal of sailing is to move the sails and catch the wind.  That’s exactly what the church needs to do:  adjust our sails to catch the winds of the Spirit and then be moved in the direction that the Spirit is going.  I also know that on a large sailboat it takes a whole crew working together to accomplish that task.

Not a bad image for the church of Jesus Christ!

Robert McAfee Brown once wrote:

“The Church is a community in a very special sense.  It is not just a voluntary fellowship of people who think it a ‘good idea’ to get together occasionally.  The authentic Christian note is that the Church is a community created by God, called into existence by God, and dependent upon God for its very life and energy.” (from The Significance of the Church)

As we ready ourselves for the celebration of Pentecost next week and (I pray) a new manifestation of the Holy Spirit in us and through us in coming days. . . we need to think like sailors, pray like sailors and move like sailors – waiting upon the Spirit’s power in our life and ministry.