May 28, 2017 — Seventh Sunday of Easter
Rev. Alison Quin
We May Not Know God’s Mind, but We Know God’s Heart
One of the highlights of my life was whale watching in Alaska about 10 years ago. We saw quite a few humpback whales, because they spend the summer feeding up there. What a thrill it was to glimpse these enormous, intelligent creatures swimming peacefully near our boat. We could see the spouts from their breathing. And they would surface occasionally, and then dive down with a great wave of their tails (flukes).
We even saw a group of them bubble feeding—a cooperative method of feeding that involves one whale swimming around a school of fish, blowing out air to create a “net” made of bubbles. The fish think they are trapped. At a signal from that whale, about five or six whales that are waiting in a circle around the bubble net dive under the net at the same time, and rise to the surface with their mouths open, feeding on the school of fish. The crew of the boat we were on had a microphone under the water, so we could hear them communicating with each other.
One of the most awesome moments was when one of the whales surfaced and just looked at us for a long time, with a look that was clearly intelligent and curious.
Eventually, they all swam off, leaving us feeling blessed for having seen them, but also longing for more. What do they do in the part of their lives that is hidden from view—what are they communicating with their long, complicated songs? What is their life like in the depths of the sea?
The feast of the Ascension leaves me feeling the same way about God. For a brief period in history, God walked on the earth, and people could see and hear and touch him.
By the way, I’m assuming that God doesn’t mind being compared to whales, since they are God’s creation—and Psalm 104 even says that God created whales for the fun of it. (Psalm 104:27—“There is that leviathan that I created for the sport of it.”)
But after Jesus’ brief life on earth, and after the extraordinary events of his death and resurrection, Jesus ascended to the Father. We no longer conceive of the universe as a three-story building, with heaven above and hell below, so perhaps ascended is the wrong word.
We might say that Jesus slipped into another dimension—the dimension of eternity and infinity.
Our reality is too small to contain God. As finite beings, we are too small to comprehend God. Again, as the psalmist says, “How deep I find your thoughts, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.” (Ps. 139).
But just because we are not capable of plumbing the mind of God doesn’t mean we don’t want to. I am nosy about God’s affairs, even nosier than I am about the hidden life of whales. As Einstein said, “I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details.”
The disciples wanted to know God’s thoughts as well. As Jesus is preparing to leave, they ask: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” In other words, is this the time when you will make all things right with the world, by kicking out the Romans and restoring the Davidic kingdom?
But that very question shows that their vision for the world is too small. Ousting the Romans and a return to national self-determination may be a worthy goal, but it falls far short of the reign of God promised in Scripture and inaugurated by Jesus. No ruler or nation or political party can bring about the reign of God—it will require a transformation of human society, not simply an exchange of one system of government for another.
Jesus’ answer is clear: “It is not for you to know the times and periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” And then it is time for him to go.
His departure is a somewhat melancholy moment. I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when the wizard takes off in the balloon without her. “Wait, wait, I’m supposed to come with you!”
But, and this is the most important line in the passage from Acts: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
We may not be privy to all of God’s plans, but God has revealed the plans that concern us. The plan is for us to help bring about the reign of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ came into the world to reveal the fullness of God’s love for us. Everything he did was to transform our hearts—to free us from fear and enable us to live from a place of love. We need not fear scarcity—his miracles of feeding reveal God’s abundance. We need not fear our past—he has proclaimed forgiveness. We need not fear suffering or death—God will give us new life. We need not fear oppression and injustice—God can transform both oppressor and oppressed.
Our journey here on earth is learning to leave fear behind, and live for love alone, following Jesus’ example.
And our mission is to spread the good news to all who sit in darkness, in captivity to fear.
We may not know God’s mind, but Jesus has revealed God’s heart. As the Gospel of John says, “No one has seen God. It is Jesus, his only son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
What we know is that God is love. We may not see God face to face in this life, but we know the power of God’s love, in our lives, in the lives of those around us, and in the continuing mission of the church.
Clara will be baptized shortly. She has already begun her spiritual journey—she is already a beloved child of God.
But through baptism, she becomes part of the body of Christ—the community commissioned by Jesus to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Through baptism, she will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to play her part in bringing about God’s reign of love.
We are finite individuals, living in time, but we are part of bringing about God’s reign of love—we are part of the infinite God’s plan of salvation. And we welcome Clara into this extraordinary adventure.