This Sunday I’ll be preaching at Gray United Methodist Church in Gray, Tennessee.  GUMC has three services.  Heritage and Lifesong worship simultaneously at 9:30am, while the traditional is at 11:15am.  Heritage has an order of worship that is very traditional and most of the participants are of a more mature age range. 

This Sunday is also Ascension Sunday.  The lectionary prescribes Acts 1:6-11 which is Jesus’ departing words and ascension into heaven.  In this sermon, I address the meantime between Jesus’ ascension and return through the lens of aging.  Just as the physical Jesus leaves the disciples, our physical abilities leave us.  The actions of the disciples following Jesus’ departure give us insight into the aging process as we await to be made whole in heaven.

I have erroneously believed that aging happened at a given point in time. No one told me it kind of snuck up on us. I suppose this hard held belief was fostered by my father. While still in high school, I remember greeting him in the kitchen and his face had fallen. It seemed like yesterday, this rather young (yet seasoned) man I called “Dad” fussed at me for going to bed too late. The next morning, he was gone, replaced by an older version. Another morning, while home on a college break, he asked me to read the back of a food label. I asked, “Can’t you read that Dad?” He responded with, “I could yesterday. I just can’t focus.” The next day he was fitted for glasses. Now they rarely leave his face.

Approaching 40, my body reminds me that I am not 19. My body, medically, takes after my father’s side. I have scoliosis. I must be mindful of what I lift and how I move. I have therapy every other week. And just last year, I started allergy shots because my body does not bounce back as it once did with my yearly sinus battles. While I may be wiser, I do move slower and this body needs more care. This is my new reality.

I have had to accept that my original premise was false. Aging happens slowly and (shocker!) it is happening to me.

The disciples had an original premise about the resurrected Jesus. Some assumed that he would take over right then and there – after all he had defeated death, taking the Roman Empire a breeze! Jesus does just the opposite, he leaves town…for good.

Read Acts 1:6-11

The disciple’s ability to hear the voice of Jesus, touch Jesus, see Jesus move about is gone. They stand in shock, watching, hoping that they are not alone. But they are. And this is their new reality.

The two men in white represent a transition from wanting the physical presence of Jesus to the acceptance of reality without a flesh on bone leader. That expectation must be released.  All of life, every chapter, is characterized by letting go of something. Youths enjoy putting aside childish ways and trying on adulthood, until they arrive.  Still then, we struggle to find the true self God has created and called us to be. We must let go of facades that underserve us. We let go of our expectations we put on others and learn to enjoy them for who they are.  We learn to dismiss the cultural “norm” and risk to discover new possibilities.

The most difficult “letting go” task involves our physicality. Aging slowing takes away what we used to do and adds new routines that are a nuisance. The two men in white often usher us into transition. To the disciples they redirect from a physical expectation to a spiritual longing. Yes, one day Jesus will return, but in this present moment, what does it mean?

To those of us who hurt and ache, the transition is to accept our broken bodies, care for our broken bodies, and love our aging bodies with a mind’s eye toward the spiritual. Yes, we will be restored, but in this present moment, what does it mean?

What spiritual lessons are taught by being vulnerable, dependent and attentive this physical life?

  • I work harder, not smarter. Aging has taught me that I can adapt.
  • I have learned to laugh as things change. (Aging can be funny and I can be funny!)
  • Aging has taught me to love myself, take time to be healthy. (I’m God’s child and worth the effort!)

Jesus has not returned to the world stage in physical form yet and our world is still broken. What does it mean? Acts 1:13-14 tells us what it meant in that immediate moment for the disciples.

They learned they could support each other (Acts 1:12-13). They learned they could pray (Acts 1:14).  And they did these things with more faith and love than ever before.

It’s not the destination but the journey that shapes the soul.  Allow your brokenness to shape you.