Sermon preached by the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas
June 4, 2011; 7 Easter, Year A
Episcopal Revised Common Lectionary
(Acts 1:6-14) -- When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But 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." When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They 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."
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
(John 17:1-11) – Jesus looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
"I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. "
First, I want to talk about footprints today. Then about voices.
Maybe you’ve seen some simple cartoon puzzles that have a few lines or shapes, and you are supposed to guess what they represent. There’s one I remember – a small circle, surrounded by a large circle, with a line coming out of the large circle from top to bottom. What is it? It’s a bird’s eye view of a man wearing a sombrero riding a bicycle.
Here’s another one that gave me a chuckle. Two feet – like footprints in the sand. Side by side, barefoot with ten toes. What is it? An eyewitness view of the Ascension.
There is an old woodcut etching of the Ascension that shows the disciples looking wonderingly into the clouds, but if you notice the details, the artist has carefully etched Jesus’ footprints down on the ground next to where the disciples are standing, as if to say, “Why do you stand looking up into heaven? Look at all of these footprints of Jesus here on earth.”[i]
Jesus’ footprints were all over the place. Imagine the fishermen going back to their workplace on Monday, looking at a spot on the beach near their nets. “This is where he called us. Here’s where he invited us to follow him.” Or a few miles away. “This is where he stood when he started to teach us, saying, ‘Blessed are the poor, …the meek, …the pure in heart, …the peacemakers.’ Or the place under the tree where he called to the tax collector Zacchaeus, “Come down out of that tree. I’m having lunch at your place today.” Or on the streets of Jerusalem, where he left his bloody footprints on the day we now call “Good Friday.”
That next Sunday, a stranger walked beside a couple of them on the road to Emmaus. His words warmed their hearts, so they invited him to stay. Their eyes were opened when he broke bread with them. It was Jesus. Next week we’ll celebrate Pentecost, when the disciples realized fully that Jesus would always be walking with them, within them, through them. His footsteps had become their footsteps.
N0w we know, his footprints are all over this town too. In kitchens where friends and families prepare our food, and at the tables where we break bread. In conversations when we talk and listen intimately. On Mondays when we, like the old fishermen, go back to work. His footprints are in offices, trucks, and shops; left by people working on phones, machines and computers.
Why do you stand looking toward heaven? He has ascended in order to fill all things with his presence. As we prayed Thursday on Ascension Day: “Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things.” Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? Go back to work. Get back into life. See his footprints everywhere. Look at your own feet. He says, “Follow me,” and so you do. As you do, you create the footprints of Jesus for our day.
That’s what I wanted to say about footprints. Now voices.
From our gospel today: “After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, …now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given them, and they have received them.” He’s talking about his disciples. They have heard his voice and received his words. And so have we.
When she was only three years old, Judy Fox lost the only mother she could remember. Her birth mother had died, and for some reason, her foster mother left her at a vulnerable age. Though she was gone from Judy’s sight, her sound lingered. For years, whenever Judy heard a voice that was similar to her foster mother’s voice, she felt an intense, haunted longing – her desire to hear that voice that meant love to her. In her thirties, she found her foster mother again.
But Judy’s experience made her think about others who were separated from that sound of motherly love. Judy started a program called the Storybook Project. Each month, Judy and other volunteers enter the prison in Gatesville, Texas and record the voices of mothers reading to their children. They read a story recorded on a cassette, usually closing with words of blessing and protection. Words like, “Good night and God bless you peanut. I love you very much.” The volunteers take these tapes to these mothers’ children, who keep them and listen to the voice of their mother; they talk back to the voice; they go to sleep to the voice and to the blessing.[ii]
When I read about that ministry, I thought of the tapes my mother recorded for Allison, reading Allie’s favorite storybook version of the Wizard of Oz. “Hello Allison. This is your grandmother Jo Jo. And this is the story of the Wizard of Oz.”
Whenever you hear our lectors read each Sunday, you hear the words that God has given to us. Words of Jesus and words of our other ancestors. Words of love and adventure and blessing. At every Eucharist you hear the voice of Jesus spoken through another recording device, speaking across the ages, saying, “Take, eat. This is my body. Drink this all of you. Do this in remembrance of me.” The words that God has given to Jesus, Jesus has given to us, and we have received them. We have heard his voice.
Toward the end of his prayer on behalf of his disciples, Jesus speaks his words of blessing for us. “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” We have heard those words again today. We are reminded of who and whose we are. “God bless you peanut; I love you very much.”
There is a way to sense the divine presence with us at all times and in all places. A way to be alert to the footsteps beside us and the footprints around us; the voice that speaks with sounds of love – any sound of love. If our hearts and eyes and ears are open, our ears can be filled with the sounds of love and our eyes alert for the presence of his footsteps.
It happens most often in our day to day work when we are taking care of business, like Peter and James and John returning to their nets on Monday. Listen to his voice within you; let your footsteps be his as you prepare a meal, work on your computer, walk and talk with a friend, or even as you do your taxes, when you might be surprised like Zacchaeus.
We are probably most aware of the voice and the footprint when those happy and joyful things happen, and we feel warm and loved and blessed. But the story of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion reminds us that he is with us at our hardest times too, when our feet feel bloodied and bruised. His voice is there also, saying, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing. Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
There is a way of being that senses that it is all love. All of it. Everything and everyone. Can you nurture that way of being? It is like being in the flow. When we sense that we all are one, as Jesus and the Father as one. When every voice has a divine resonance, and Jesus’ footprints abound. Colors seem more vivid; sounds bring wonder; life is alive, abundant.
Jesus would give us that way of life, that flow. He has ascended into infinity in order to fill all things. All things. Here and now. Hear his voice. He speaks to you with words that you may receive. They are words of love. Gentle love. Compassion and care. Intimate care. Listen to him. Overhear him as he prays for you, again and again. “Father, …now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given them, and they have received them… Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
“Footprints on the Earth,” a sermon by Barbara Lundblud, ELCA minister, http://www.goodpreacher.com/backissuesread.php?file=12651
“The Voice,” a sermon by Rosemary Beales, quoting Carol Oppel, “Bridging the Distance,” Episcopal Life, March, 2004 http://www.goodpreacher.com/backissuesread.php?file=12732
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