Ascension Day: A Sermon For The Thoughtful Christian
May 17, 2015
Every week that we gather here in this place,
some of you almost didn’t come.
The lawn needs mowing;
you could use more sleep;
the Sugar Shack has donuts with bacon calling your name;
and increasingly in our world,
after all, you’re not so sure what you believe anymore.
I’m glad that you’re here.
And truly, I believe and hope your being here will make a difference in your week.
If the new Pew Research study on religious life in America is correct,
in just 7 years,
there has been a dramatic drop in the number of people in the United States
who say they are Christian –
7 percentage points.
And there is an even more dramatic rise
in the number of people who say they are agnostic or atheist,
or simply not religious at all.
We used to believe that the majority of those who say they are unaffiliated with a religious faith
are still spiritual but just not religious –
meaning that they believe in God but have difficulties in the institutional church.
But that’s not true…
more and more people are saying that they are not religious – and not spiritual either.
Some of you are probably on the edge of faith today.
Sometimes I’m on the edge.
Sometimes most of us are on the edge.
And frankly this week’s theme of the Ascension doesn’t help….
40 days after the resurrection, Jesus ascends into heaven we’re told.
Look at the bulletin cover…Jesus’ feet are in the clouds
as the disciples look on.
Do we have to believe that the ascension happened like in this picture,
in order to be a Christian?
Do we have to ignore science,
pretend the law of gravity doesn’t exist,
when it comes to Sunday mornings?
If the comments written after the news articles about this drop in Christianity
reflect those of the general population,
there is the assumption that yes, in order to be a Christian
you have to separate your brain somehow
and think one thing on Sunday mornings and something different the rest of your week.
I believe you can be a Christian and be a thoughtful person.
I believe you can be a Christian and also be a scientist.
I consider myself to be thoughtful.
I consider myself to be a scientist.
Most of you know that before attending seminary,
I was a physician..
and not once did I find practicing medicine incompatible with my beliefs.
Before medical school I got my undergraduate and graduate degrees in mechanical engineering-
in the area of fluid mechanics.
My master’s thesis came up with an equation to
describe high velocity fluid flow near a surface…
the resulting equation related to the Reynolds number and Schmidt numbers.
Not once did I wonder if my research could explain how the vortices under Jesus’ feet
were in such a way to allow him to levitate to the sky.
It’s not that my faith wasn’t important…
it’s always been important to me.
But my faith informs my life..
my faith does not inform the laws of gravity or fluid dynamics.
Both science and faith deal with big questions…
but they’re different questions!
I didn’t read my fluid mechanics text books to figure out what it means to love;
and I don’t read Scripture to learn biology.
I am a Christian because I have so many of those big questions that science doesn’t answer.
They are questions of beauty and love and mystery and holiness.
I’m a Christian because I believe in evolution,
and yet when Jesus says that in God’s kingdom
the last shall be first and the first shall be last,
I know that’s right somehow –
even though it doesn’t really fit with Darwin’s survival of the fittest.
I’m a Christian because I believe that the earth is billions of years old
and it took far longer to form than six days,
and yet when I look at a waterfall, or hike a trail in the forest,
or watch a bird build its nest,
I know there’s something more to all of that which surpasses understanding.
I’m a Christian because while I’m hopeful that medical researchers will discover
the cure for Alzheimer’s and cancer,
and I believe in the work of vaccines and medications and therapists,
I’ve also known the healing that can come from a word of prayer.
I’m a Christian because while I can join the Lions’ club and help the blind,
and occasionally donate to the Salvation Army,
every day I am held accountable to my baptismal promises,
spoken by my parents but later affirmed on my own,
that I will care for the earth and the world that God made,
serve in the example of Christ,
and work for justice and peace in all the world….every day.
I’m a Christian because I’ve never been part of another community
where this unusual way of life –
this way we have of seeking a life of meaning; a life of giving; of loving; of accepting
is encouraged and supported and even expected.
None of you question why I say a prayer before meals.
None of you question why I choose to go to church even on vacation.
None of you question why I give back 10% of my income to the church.
None of you question why I might struggle with how best to help the poor
or that a dominant question in looking for a job is “Is God calling me here?”
None of you question why I like to sing hymns that sound old-fashioned or songs which repeat themselves over and over again.
I’m a Christian because I believe that there is holiness in living…
and that we’re meant to ask questions, wonder, and see the joy there is in life.
I’m a Christian because while at the end of life, I’ve signed death certificates
which state with certainty the time and cause of death,
I also believe in new life.
Today we hear that Jesus ascends into heaven.
The question isn’t a question for fluid mechanics.
The question for us is,
since Jesus is no longer with us in the same way he was,
how shall we tell others about him?
How shall we explain why we’re Christian?