Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
"Saying Goodbye"
May 16, 2010
Luke 24: 44-53


On Tuesday Carol will board a plane and fly halfway across the country to see her brother.  He has been battling cancer and is on the verge of losing the fight.  She knows this will be their final time together, so she is making the trip to say "Goodbye."

She has not seen him for months and is unsure of what to expect, but she has been bracing herself.  Through emails, her sister-in-law has been preparing her for her brother's appearance.  He has always been a sizeable man, quite literally her big brother.   But the disease and the chemotherapy have ravaged his once mighty frame.  He has lost 75 pounds and in the past six months he seems to have aged twenty years.

She plans to do a lot of reminiscing about her favorite times they had together.  Carol will talk about their parents, their summers at the beach, the tricks they pulled at school and the times they stood up for each other.  There will be tears and howls of laughter, heartfelt emotions and fervent prayers.  It will be exhausting and heartbreaking, but she knows that, in time to come, she will cherish these days.

There are many farewells we must say in life.  The toughest ones are when a loved one is approaching death's doorstep.  However, there are other goodbyes.

Some of our young people will be graduating soon.  They are in the process of saying goodbye to a significant stage in their lives.  They are not yet mature adults, but they have crossed the finish line of childhood.  Soon, many will move out of mom and dad's house.  They will come back, but it will never be the same.  Their destiny is more in their own hands now.

All of us say goodbye to friends who move away.  A new job in another state beckons and they move out of our community and out of our lives.  Saying goodbye to friends is something we do many times in life, but it's rarely easy.

This morning's passage from the final verses of the Gospel of Luke is a farewell scene.  It marks the occasion when Jesus bids his disciples adieu.  He has appeared to them following his resurrection demonstrating that his death was not the end and that they could live with the hope of life beyond the grave.  Now it is time to depart, so he leads them out to Bethany, says a final blessing and ascends to heaven.

Luke's account is brief and provides few details, but it could not have been an easy goodbye.  The disciples have spent three years with Jesus and lived at a level of intensity difficult to imagine.  They have walked many miles together and along the way they have been captivated by his wisdom, amazed at his magical touch and gradually learned the power of sacrificial love.  No doubt they yearned to hold onto Jesus and never let him out of their sight; but his life on earth was finished.  They had to say goodbye.

We might expect such a loss to leave them devastated, yet Luke records no such thing.  Instead, he says that the disciples "returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God."  Why joy?  Why not despair?  For one, his ascension affirmed their hope that life in this world is not all there is.  There is life after life.  Yet this final scene not only affirmed their belief in life beyond this world, it infused them with a passion to get the most out of life while still in this world.

The ascension of Jesus is not merely an ancient tale describing how people in a pre-scientific era believed the resurrected Jesus was beamed up to heaven.  It is a pivotal event in the Christian story.  It is when the mission of Jesus was handed off to his followers.  It was the passing of the baton, the beginning of a relay that has lasted centuries.  In effect, Jesus said, "I have shown you the way.  Now, it's up to you to carry on my mission."

Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth century Spanish mystic wrote, "God of love, help us to remember that Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes to see the needs of the world.  Ours are the hands with which to bless everyone.  Ours are the feet with which (Christ) is to go about doing good."

I suspect the ascension of Jesus is not a favorite story of those who want to leave everything to God.  It's not a top ten pick of those who think being spiritual means to tell God through prayer what God needs to do to clean up our messes.

The ascension of Jesus marks the moment when we received our marching orders.  Jesus said, "Through you the homeless will be sheltered and the hungry fed.  Through you the sick will be healed and the grief-stricken comforted.  Through you the weak will be protected and the oppressed set free.  Through you the faith will be spread and the ways of God will become known."

Being handed such tremendous responsibility is sobering.  Those first disciples may have wanted to protest: "Jesus, you really cannot expect us to handle all of this!"

But before they could voice their trepidation, Jesus said, "Even though I will no longer be physically present with you, you will not be alone.  Go to Jerusalem and wait.

Soon you will receive the power you need - the strength, the courage and the hope you need."

Then the text says that after Jesus departs, the disciples return to Jerusalem with great joy.  That concludes Volume 1 of Luke's writings and sets the stage for Volume 2: The Acts of the Apostles.  It is in Acts that we read of the transformation that took place in the followers of Jesus.  These previously indecisive and shivering individuals were transformed into brave, confident and energetic witnesses who created the first Christian communities and began to spread the faith against staggering odds.

When the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus ascend into heaven they were assured of eternal life.  Yet they realized that in addition to anticipating everlasting life after death, they were called to live a rich and abundant life before they died.  And so they made the most of their remaining time on earth, embarking on an amazing adventure with God.

Two men from Chicago invented the Life Clock.  After purchasing it, you program your birth date and gender into the clock's memory and it begins counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds remaining in your life.

To keep that ticking away of time from getting too depressing, the clock flashes little inspirational messages every sixty seconds.  The messages include the profound, such as: "All resistance begins in the mind," as well as the practical: "Eat your vegetables."

Shortly after the clock appeared, a newspaper reporter asked one of its inventors if he thought the clock was a bit morbid.  "Not at all," the man said, "because once you see that time is quantified, the quality of your life starts to increase."  His partner chimed in, "We're born, they wind us up and say, 'Go and see what you can make of your life."1

God urges us to live each day as if it was our last, and that intensifies our experience of life.  It prompts us to get to the heart of the matter.

This past week a woman on the radio said she was trying hard to be more aware of the moment and not miss it.  She realizes there are these great gaps in her memory.  She said, "I'm having difficulty remembering what happened between trigonometry and my first colonoscopy."

Marian Wright Edelman says, "Do not die before you die.  See and listen.  Bask in the countless miracles and beauty all around you.  Stay awake and alert to the incredible currents of life everywhere." 2

Author Wendell Berry writes, "The question before me, now that I am old, is not how to be dead, which I know from enough practice, but how to be alive."3

In Germany in the 1930s, most German Christians tried to separate their faith from what was going on in their country.  As individual liberties began to vanish, as Jews were blamed for the troubles the country was experiencing, and then as the Jews' property was

confiscated and their businesses destroyed; and then as they were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, German Christians tried to keep their faith in a separate compartment from the events swirling all around them.  They said, "We are only concerned with matters of the spirit, not politics.  We are only focused on our future in heaven, not what is transpiring in the world around us."

There were a few exceptions.  Most notably, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theology professor, who came to the conclusion that his faith demanded more of him.  His faith would not allow him to watch what was happening and remain on the sidelines.  He joined the Resistance and became part of a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler-not in spite of his Christian faith, but because of his faith.

The plot failed. Bonhoeffer was arrested and eventually hanged.  From his prison cell he wrote to a friend that Christianity does not shield us from life but "plunges us into all the dimensions of life."  He said, "During the last year or so I have come to appreciate the worldliness of Christianity. . .I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life. . .Later I discovered that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to believe."4

Christ does not call us out of the world, he sends us into the world.  He promises us a future glory, so that we can be totally present in the present.  Be compassionate, strive for justice and work for peace, and when you reach the end of your life you will have the assurance that you have not blown your opportunities; you have truly lived.

What time do you have on your Life Clock?  What will you do with your precious time?




1.         Barbara Brown Taylor, Bread of Angels, (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1997), p. 158.

2.         Marian Wright Edelman, The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small, (New York: Hyperion, 2008) p.57.

3.         Wendell Berry quoted by John M. Buchanan, "Two Angry Sisters and Their Recently Deceased Brother," March 7, 2010.

4.         John M. Buchanan, "Into the World," May 24, 2009, quoting Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 226.










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