Spiraling through our life, by Pastor Noel

June 1 & 2, 2019   Feast of the Ascension


      The church calendar is an interesting thing. On Thursday we had Ascension Day—always a Thursday because always 40 days after Easter Day.

      Then Friday, on the calendar, was The Visitation. This commemorates the visit Mary made to her cousin Elizabeth when they were both pregnant.

      So, the day after we say good bye to Jesus, as he ascends, we say hello to him before he was born. And we hear that wonderful song of justice Mary sings, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

      We celebrate Ascension Day this weekend here, even though the day was Thursday. Since we are Church of the Ascension, this is what’s called our “patronal” feast.

      Patronal refers to the patron saints for whom churches are named. We can claim the Ascension.

      I’m not going to try to explain the Ascension to you. I can’t. It is a mystery, like the resurrection, and many other things about Jesus and his life.

      To me the most important things about Jesus are not the things I cannot explain, but the things I can see and experience all these years later.

      Luke ends his gospel with this ascension story. He begins The Acts of the Apostles with the story we heard of angels asking the disciples, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

      They mean, “You’ve got work to do!”

      Jesus has given them their marching orders, if you will— “…repentance and forgiveness are to be proclaimed in (my) name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

      Starting from Jerusalem, Jesus’ message goes spiraling out to all the world.

      “Repentance and forgiveness.” These are two way of following Jesus. They are connected, and I hope that they spiral through our lives as we deepen our relationship with God each day.

      We have a wonderful new prayer garden next to the parish hall. It is a meditative walkway called a labyrinth. Ours is a spiral labyrinth.

      The path spirals in from the starting point and takes us to the center. Here is a cross, and a memorial garden.

      After prayerfully walking into the center, the peace and strength of the center go with us as we walk back out.

      Things look different walking out. The stones and plants are seen from another angle. The light is different on this way. Maybe something we didn’t notice on our inward journey draws our attention now, makes us pause and ponder.

      Our life with God is like that.  We call this life “spiritual,” but it cannot be disconnected from our physical lives. It is a foundational part of us.

      As we walk through our lives we may encounter the same things over and over. Each time we do, we have the possibility of seeing them differently. As we grow in God we have new eyes, new hearts for our lives.

      “Repentance and forgiveness” are part of the spiral of life we have with God.

      Each time we repent we turn from something and turn towards God. We get strength to draw closer to God. And we do this over and over as we walk the spiral path of life.

      Each time we forgive God gives us healing and peace. We get strength to let go of whatever was giving us pain or anger or fear. And we do this over and over as we walk the spiral path of life.

      Repenting and forgiving are not one time events. Over and over throughout our lives we are faced with decisions. We can turn from what God calls us to be and do, or we can turn toward God. We can make ourselves sick because of what someone else has done or said. Or, with God’s help, we can learn to let go and find peace and not let that other person or event poison our lives.

      Every day on our life’s walk we have these possibilities. Every day we can draw on God’s help. And every time we do, we are in a different place on our walk.  Stronger, peaceful.

      We may have the same decisions over and over. Each time we call on God’s help we meet these decisions with new resolve.

      With new strength from God.

      If we need some ideas about this walk with God, Mary gives us a good start. In her song of praise, “Magnificat,” she sings about the world as God envisions it. Hopes for it.

       There is mercy on those who honor and trust God. Who recognize God’s goodness.

      The mighty and proud are “cast down.” Those who think it’s all about them have no place in God’s kingdom.

      In God’s kingdom the lowly are lifted up. The hungry are fed “with good things.” The rich, who have exploited the poor and ignored their needs, are sent away empty.

      God’s kingdom is about community. It is about caring and sharing and welcoming everyone. God’s kingdom is about seeing ourselves in others, and seeing others in ourselves.

      It is about walking that ever rising spiral with God in our lives personally. It is about being a church or family that deepens our relationship with God. We do this as we worship and as we reach out into the community in love and care.

      All our lives we meet people who are different from us. As we walk this journey of our lives we may come to have new understanding and respect for them. If we open our hearts, God will help us see that there is no “them” and “us” but only all of us together.

      This is PRIDE month for the LGBTQ folks. I know how my understanding and acceptance have grown for them and others. I applaud how our church has welcomed and made room for people who used to be “them.”

      And that includes women. When I first felt the call to ordination there was no place for me in the Episcopal Church. Not even a glimmer.

      I am sad and angry about churches that won’t follow Jesus in being accepting and welcoming.

      This can be hard work. We are called to love our neighbor, but we don’t wake up one morning suddenly loving everyone. It takes effort and education and allowing our hearts to be changed.

      This won’t happen if we stand looking up to heaven like the disciples. (Although I can certainly understand doing that!)

      This happens as we are intentional in our walk with God. As we are intentional in repenting and forgiving over and over. We never get it completely right, but we get better and better.

      We do this not by standing and looking up into the sky, but by following Jesus. Theresa of Avila tells us, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”ë

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details