Today St. Luke’s and Christ the King churches celebrated the beginning of the next chapter in our church lives, with our new Priest -in- Charge, Father Mitchell Yudasz, conducting a Eucharistic service. Following our service we gathered in the parish hall for coffee and cake and the sharing of fellowship. Welcome Fr. Mitch.
Sunday, July 7, 2019, there will be a joint service with Christ the King church, here at St. Luke’s. We will have a Holy Eucharist service, at 9:00 a.m., with our churches new Priest in Charge, Father Mitch Yudasz. Following the service there will be a welcoming reception coffee hour.
On June 10, 2018, we celebrated the retirement of our pastor, Fr. William Hale, in a joint service with our cluster parish, Christ the King, Taylor, MI, followed by a picnic. Father Bill and his wife, Arlene, have retired and relocated to California to be closer to family.
Suddenly, there was the beginning of the “helicopter” days. Just when Michigan had finally broken into its first 80° day, the maple trees on our street started to let loose their little winged seedlings. Ever since I was a kid, the two seeds linked together and floating down on the wind looked like some sort of feathered messengers as they rode on the wind and floated everywhere up and down the street. Wherever the wind carried them, the little winged seeds circled and circled, moving in their gyrating ways down and over, and down again, until they hit the earth.
As I watch them now, I cannot help but think of the parable of the sower:
Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold. (Mark 4: 3-8)
I don’t need to explicate the parable that Jesus tells. It is often given as the first of his parables and it’s recorded in all three synoptic Gospels. It is even explained by him to his questioning disciples about its meaning (Mark 4: 13-20). But on this May day, when the maples on this block were showering forth wave after wave of their seedlings, all that would come to mind was the image of that bountiful sower casting forth his seed here, there, and everywhere.
Now, I have always taken that parable as an expression of how God will not stop at anything to get the Word out. Like the sower constantly thrusting his hand into the bag of seed, these maples–at the right time–cast forth their seed packets to fly with the wind and reach into all corners of the surrounding area; so is God’s presence and call. By late afternoon, there were not hundreds, but thousands and thousands of little helicopter pairs covering the street, the sidewalk, people’s lawns, our roof, the neighbor’s roof, falling into the strangest places–cluttering up and clogging gutters at the eaves, lying thick even upon the top of my car. The prodigal display of sending forth of seedlings went on all day and much of the next. I would not have thought that the nearest maple tree could have held nearly so many of these as I saw scattered around me! And like the seed of the sower, while much of it hits the pavement, or blows down a gutter, or gets trampled underfoot by the kids as they played in the street, I knew that some precious few of the seedlings would land on a spot of grass or some exposed earth – and put down roots. Looking forward in my mind a decade or so, I imagined a small maple sapling here or there, and perhaps, in time, another mighty maple added to our stock of trees in the neighborhood.
The meaning behind maple seeds or that of the Sower is the same: that God’s grace is abundant continuous. Seeds or maple seeds scattered here, there, and everywhere, with most not finding good soil take root in. But it is for the sake of the possibility of that implanting that the Sower keeps on sowing. We may respond negatively to God’s call, but God does not accept our “no” as the final answer.
Our two churches have each had decades to put down roots of faith and to provide good soil in which the seed of the Spirit can take root. That is one of the purposes of being a church community: to strengthen one another in ways that support the faith, to propagate the faith by telling God’s story over and over again. What we have received—individually and as a congregation—we need not only to preserve, but to proclaim. This will involve dedication to strengthening our own faith and exploring the fullness of our life in Christ. We do this by Sunday School, by Christian education, by Bible study, by sermons, by personal testimony and a host of other ways. There are many ways to proclaim the Gospel, but the constant in all our endeavors is to help the Sower spread the seed, that is the Word.
We know that the means to approach God and to be born in the Spirit are always readily available. God is forever offering the grace to have new life. But while with God this is a constant, the variable is the ground upon which the seed falls. For the individual and for us collectively, we must cultivate the “good soil” the Spirit-seed needs. When we harden ourselves, we cannot bear fruit. When we give up before difficulties, we give that seed no nourishment. When we resist to the call of God, or when we feel the need to soften the call of God so that it is comforting to our current lifestyle rather than transformative by helping us to leave our old self and take on the new–then we frustrate the work of God within us. As a result, we cannot bear fruit because we only offer rocks, or old well-trodden paths deadly as thorns and other barren patches. A large part of the work of the Church is to receive what God has given us, to prepare strips of good land, sections of “good soil,” which are hearts and minds that are open to receive God’s Spirit and to let it transform us so we may transform the world.
The Spirit is with you—be faithful and fruitful!
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
March ended with Holy Week, including the one of the most significant days for Christians: Good Friday. The article for that month explored our understanding of Christ’s redeeming death for us on the Cross. Since April 1st was Easter Sunday, I devoted the April newsletter to the larger topic of Christ’s Resurrection. Following this pattern, because May includes the celebration of Ascension Day, this article this article links to the others to make clear that. in the scheme of salvation, Christ’s Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension are individual parts which taken together form a single redemptive whole.
Comprehending Christ’s ascension into heaven involves special problems beyond those of his death and resurrection. Any adult should be able to comprehend physical death– even when it is a cruel execution and by no means a natural event. What is significant about the Crucifixion is its import and meaning for Christians: we see it as a self-sacrifice of the man Jesus, as well as the redemptive act of the Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That he was resurrected on the third day and returned to life is a mystery, to be sure, but one that is attested by his disciples who experienced the risen Christ in person. Their testimony forms the basis of the proclamation of the gospel. Because they encountered the risen Christ, they were able to move from hiding and passive discipleship into the active role of apostles to the world.
But the Ascension of Christ cannot be easily comprehended by modern minds. Struggling as everyone does to find words to match or describe the event, we realize how difficult is the task of explicating what the Ascension is or what it means. We do not live in a three-tier world where one stands on the ground and looks up into heaven as a place to which we can be transported if only we had the right elevator. Instead, we need to come to terms with an event which the disciples reportedly witnessed, but which is inexplicable in purely physical terms. That Christ rose from the dead is essential to our understanding of ourselves as “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11) Thus, Paul links the lives of the faithful to Christ’s own death and resurrection.
But the same resurrected Jesus does not walk the earth in bodily form today, nor is he found in any sepulcher or other burial place; instead, we affirm that he lives and has returned with his mortal body to that place or state where he dwelt prior to the Incarnation. Before his death, Jesus predicted that he would be exalted into heaven after his Resurrection. For example, speaking to and of the Father, Jesus says,
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. (John 17: 4-5)
For Christ was not resurrected in order to live and move in a limited locality such as Galilee or Judea. Nor was he given life in order to die again – his humanity was made complete in his suffering and Crucifixion. Christ has proven his full mortal status. As Paul writes,
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin,
once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. (Romans 6: 9-10)
By this point, the work he began with his Incarnation and birth has been completed, and the risen Christ needs to return to be with the Creator. There Christ can attain to the full glory of his heavenly being and be proclaimed King of all creation by angels and archangels and all those who worship him. This was affirmed early on in the ancient Church hymn which Paul quotes:
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
The other truth of Jesus’ departure in his Ascension is that it sets the stage for the coming of the Holy Spirit to be the new guide for the apostles. Jesus’ last promises to his disciples include notice that he will send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate, the Paraclete to stay with the disciples in his place.
Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away,
for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you;
but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16: 7)
His words indicate that it is necessary for him to go away so that the Holy Spirit may descend and dwell with us in his place. His removal from them – classically designated his Ascension to heaven – is both historically and theologically necessary. If Christ does not complete his return to the heavenly places, the Holy Spirit cannot begin its work by being present, nor can this age proceed to its appointed end when Christ will return as promised.
This is what the Church from earliest times has proclaimed. Christ has completed the cycle from heavenly being entirely part of the Godhead, to incarnate Word of God dwelling among us as one of us, to the Crucified One who actually died and was buried, to resurrected Christ bearing the signs of his passion and death as he returns to dwell with the Father. There he is enthroned “at the right hand of God.” From this exalted state, Christ lives and is the object of our prayers. But he is not removed from us. Though apparently absent from this world, the enduring Christ lives in all of us who have committed ourselves to him, even as he has transformed the gathering of his followers into the body of Christ on earth.