If I may, for a moment, put the beginning of the United Methodist General Conference into a liturgical context. The events in Portland do not occur beyond the church year but within the ongoing worship life of the church they represent. It is important, I believe to be grounded texts which give us meaning and spiritually shape our congregations. That is why this week is special.
While delegates and leaders from around the world are wrapped up in our inside baseball language about conference rules, unity plans, delegates, and human sexuality; something has slipped under the radar. As debates occur about scriptural authority and the Biblical meaning of marriage on the floor of General Conference, most United Methodist congregations will observe Ascension Sunday (The Feast of the Ascension).
Ascension Sunday marks the one Sunday, six weeks after Easter and one week prior to Pentecost, when Jesus took his disciples to a hillside outside Jerusalem, bid them farewell and headed into heaven. Yes, you read that correctly. In fact, I’m paraphrasing the Apostles’ Creed, which says, “ascended into heaven”. It’s a phrase we mumble, repeat, and utter without giving it much thought. The Bible says and we claim to believe that Jesus flew (on a cloud) like Superman back into heaven. Do we really? Jesus, only recently returned from the dead, flew like a man with a jet-pack, back into heaven. I can and do believe many things. I take many things on faith; a resurrected Jesus flying back into heaven isn’t one of them. It’s crazy. I can’t with a straight face ask people to assent to such nonsense.
Is it any wonder people have trouble taking Christianity seriously? Do we really doubt why we’re losing members? It has nothing to do with those who don’t reach millennials or have a contemporary style worship. No, I think we look like a group of people more comfortable arguing with ourselves and out of touch with the world. We’re spending millions of dollars to debate the validity of Biblical passages relating to human sexuality and marriage but have no problems affirming texts about a man flew to heaven on a cloud. We’ve not placed the cart before the horse. We’ve slaughtered the horse, chopped up the cart, and asked the world to be proud of us for being so destructive. If we want credibility, we’ll find a new way to talk about the Ascension and other difficult texts. I for one, love Superman, but I don’t believe Jesus can fly. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.