President’s Blog #13 – What If We Ascend?
June 3, 2021
President’s Blog 13 – What If We Ascend?
Text: Acts 1:1-2
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
The ascension in Luke 24:50 marks the closure to the story of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. In Acts 1:10, the ascension marks the beginning of the story of the church.
Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension:
Jesus’s suffering on the cross was a needed diagnosis and intervention for our human predicament. It was a summons to embrace a solidarity with our pain as opposed to practicing our usual avoiding, denying, and resisting. The death and resurrection (loss and renewal) of Jesus established a paradigm and hermeneutic that calls us to a more fulfilling life, and gives hope when life is taken from us. Unfortunately, we allow personal, systemic, and structural priorities to keep us sick and afflicted.
The ascension was a reuniting of the material world to its spiritual Source. The ascension is about the final reunion of what appeared to be separated for a while – separation of earth and heaven, human and divine, matter and Spirit. “So that where I am, you also will be” (John 14:3). It seemed that this year of pandemic and racial re-evaluation has resulted in ascension, a reuniting of the material to its spiritual source – or has it?
I believe that the writer of Psalm 23 would say – “The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (the kerygma) restores our souls.” But soul without spirit leaves us vulnerable to repeat past atrocities. We have had Moses, Deborah, Esther, Joshua, and others to call from us the best in us. But, so often after rising to our best we descend to our worst and fail to ascend and offer God’s grace and mercy.
I am reminded of the period of reconstruction in the United States. Right at the end of civil war we entered an era, from December 8, 1863, to March 31, 1877, that ushered in education, voting, and property reforms for Freed Persons. I always concluded that it was President Andrew Johnson who ended the era of reconstruction. But I learned later that Reconstruction continued under President Grant who was elected after President Johnson. President Grant was a stanch supporter of reconstruction and the fair treatment of Freed men and Freed women. But during the summer and fall of 1875, Grant refused to send federal troops to Mississippi. Senator John Roy Lynch, a biracial senator from Mississippi, told of a conversation with Grant in Washington in November 1875.
Senator Lynch discussed a conversation he had with President Grant in November of 1875 when he asked the President why he had refused to aid the Governor of Mississippi when white Republicans and black Freedmen were being murdered and terrorized by white militia. Grant explained to Lynch that he had prepared a proclamation for action in Mississippi. But before signing it, he conferred with Ohio Republicans who warned that if Grant interfered in Mississippi, Republicans would lose Ohio in the upcoming presidential election. Grant thus decided it was more important to retain Ohio than to save Mississippi.
Grant did the best he could in the situation he inherited, but the loss of support from Northern Republicans was catastrophic for reconstruction. In the end there was no way for blacks to enjoy their emancipation rights without prolonged military presence. There was a terrible double standard in place: the country tolerated terror by whites, but not by blacks. Once reconstruction collapsed, it led to the re-enslaving of freedmen via Jim Crow segregation, Lynching, poll taxes, literacy tests, and other degrading acts. It would be another 80 years before America would rise above its abusive, neglectful, oppressive culture.
In 1877 America did not ascend. America descended and did not lead those in captivity to freedom. America continued to neglect and oppress its own people. God was calling for Ascension, but we turned a blind eye to God’s call, and we descended.
Question: What if we Ascend?
- If We Ascend…We Begin the Process of Working and Caring for Each Other:
- If we Ascend … We will love our neighbors as ourselves.
- If we Ascend… We will love our enemies as our neighbors.
- If we Ascend… We will pray for our friends, our families, and our enemies.
- If we Ascend… We will work for the good of all humankind.
- If We Ascend…We will Engage the Process of Discernment:
- We will learn to discover and uncover God’s will for our future.
- We will get in touch with our True selves, and we learn more about ourselves. Your True Self is who we really are in God and who God is in us.
- We will become more deeply in touch with God (prayer and scripture will have greater meaning).
- We will make better decisions (gather facts, consider alternatives, explore different options).
- We will be able to confirm and commit to our decision (letting them sink in, feeling peace and tranquility).
Today, our America, like our America in 1875, faces the call and challenge to Ascend. We must ascend! We must raise above politics and tribalism! We must rise above the rankling, the blaming, the guilt, and the denial of descending.
- If we ascend – Pentecost will come:
- Pentecost will free us.
- Pentecost will connect our restored soul to the anointing of the Spirit.
- Pentecost ushers in a movement of the Spirit so powerful that we will speak in other languages, as the Spirit give us ability. That is:
- The conservative will understand the liberal
- The liberal will understand the moderate
- The poor will understand the rich
- The rich will understand the middle class
- The sexist will understand the feminist/womanist
- The complementarians will understand equalitarians
- The racist will understand the radical
- The young will understand the old
- The parent will understand the child
- And God will bless your families and your children, and their children, and their children, for a thousand generations…
From outside of ourselves, beyond ourselves, and through ourselves the Spirit will transform us. The Spirit will free us to believe in a God who is involved. A God that is wind, fire, joy, excitement, and universal. A God that is dynamic, alive, moving, and available.
Then God, the Holy Spirit, will be experienced as intimacy, enlightenment, joy, fire, and as the power to love beyond boundaries and ethnicities (Acts 2:1–13). To the Holy Spirit we must surrender. And with the Holy Spirit we are empowered to stand together, build together, and grow together.
Malcolm Guite said it this way:
Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire, air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in God’s translation.
Whose mother tongue is Love in every nation.
In Joy and In Justice!
Micah L. McCreary
President, New Brunswick Theological Seminary