Sunday, May 28, 2017
God our Father Keeps His Promises (Ascension.A)
There’s a very sad story on the front page of this morning’s newspaper. In just five years, Nina, Chelsey, Wade, Kelsy and Nadine Saint-Ange have seen their eldest brother murdered and lost both their parents.
Now the siblings are struggling to stay together as a family. They have no other family nearby, and when their father died suddenly on May 8, only one adult turned up to support them.
That adult told The Province “They have nothing. Their father had left a significant amount of debt, there was no will and no plan for the children. Their extended family are all from Montreal, there is no one who can help.”
These are not youngsters—they range in age from 22 to 15. Yet the paper correctly describes them as orphans.
I couldn’t help thinking of the Saint-Ange family when I read the last sentence of this morning’s Gospel text, which also happens to be the last sentence of St. Matthew’s entire Gospel.
Jesus said “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
His words firm up a promise he made to the disciples at the Last Supper: “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:18). And they fulfill the prophetic words of Isaiah in the Old Testament “do not fear, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10).
It’s hard to fault Mr. Saint-Ange for not planning for his children—he was just 45 when he died, a long-haul trucker who had nothing much to spare. And even the best financial planning couldn’t have met the deepest needs of his wounded family.
God’s plan for his children, by contrast, is comprehensive life insurance. Perhaps I should say “life assurance.” His plan makes the broken human family whole. His plan, revealed and completed in Christ, brings us into an intimate family relationship.
This can’t have been easy to accept on the day our Lord ascended into heaven. After the joy of the Resurrection, Jesus is again disappearing from view. In our first reading, after Jesus disappeared from view angels ask the disciples, “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” I think I might have answered rather sharply, “Why do you think?”
But it’s surely meant as a rhetorical question, to which no answer’s expected. Why stand here staring when the next chapter is about to unfold? Don’t look up—look around you, and see the plan begin to unfold.
And it’s a question we can ask ourselves on this Ascension Day. Do we look for God in the skies, off in the distance, when he’s right here with us?
John Eldredge, my current favourite among Protestant spiritual writers, tells about meeting an old acquaintance, a man he hadn’t seen for a few years. He noticed right away that the fellow wasn’t half the man he used to be, and wondered whether he’d been ill. But in fact, he’d just been worn down by a series of disappointments and setbacks.
As he walked away from the encounter, Eldredge asked himself “What happened? He held such promise.”
The answer, he decided, had to do with assumptions. The disheartened man had assumed that God, being a loving God, was going to bless his choices, was going to make life good. And he hadn’t, leaving the man dazed and hurt.
When we hear Jesus say “I will not leave you orphans” and “I am with you always,” we can make the same assumptions. Since we believe in his promises, and he keeps his promises, he’s going to give us a happy life. A + B = C, as John Eldredge sums it up. So we feel abandoned and betrayed when life doesn’t work out.
The false assumption is based on the notion that God’s way of staying with us, of being with us, of fathering us is life insurance—material support for our material needs. But I’ve said it’s life assurance, a much more personal thing.
Today Jesus promises us what those bereaved children lost when their father died: an intimate relationship, daily contact and counsel.
If we assume that God is our financial planner, we’re likely to be disappointed. But if we understand that he’s a loving Father, wanting a Father’s relationship with each of his children, we start to see his plan. We find the plan in many places in the Old Testament—I particularly like the words of Jeremiah “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God”—but it’s completely fulfilled in Christ, who enlightens our hearts to know the hope to which we are called, the richness of our inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of his power.
Contrast that assumption with the A + B = C math that puts God “up there,” and gives him the job of making our plans turn out the way we want them to.
Why stand looking up toward heaven when God wants an intimate conversation with us, right here and right now? Because that's his plan.