“Heaven and Earth: Gravity, Grace and the Wiggle”
Ps. 47 & Acts 1:1-11 ~ Northwood UC ~ May 29, 2022 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
Do you remember the wiggle? How many of you remember your first bicycle? Do you remember learning to ride it? Or perhaps you remember teaching someone to ride? Well then, you must remember the wiggle! I'm thinking back to teaching my children to ride a bicycle. And I remember teaching my daughter, and the painful term that she coined for our family, forever known as…the wiggle.
Mikayla was about three years of age. And she had been learning to ride the bicycle. She was learning to overcome the wiggle. It was a lovely summer day, and we had been working on her riding skills.... After a nice barbecue dinner and a rushed dessert.... someone was very eager to go and perfect her skills. She returned from her room with new attire. She was a vision blending style and protection: a white helmet with pink racing stripes, long pants to protect those vulnerable little knees, and a pink sparkly jacket ready to protect those vulnerable elbows? My daughter was ready to ride. And as we were walking over to the school that day, I found myself thinking of the stages that we go through as we learn to ride.
Firstly, there is the “training wheel stage”. You will recall that one. It is relatively safe and easy for both rider and teacher. It requires training wheels on the bike and an enthusiastic teacher cheering on the new rider: “come on, you can do it...push with your left foot...then you're right...then your left...then you're right. There you go! Keep pumping! Keep pumping!” You remember the training wheel stage…sure you do! The second stage, we might remember as the “parent gets a workout stage.” The shackles of the training wheels have been removed: first one, then eventually both. The first taste of freedom is being cherished by the young rider. And we are required to jog alongside the child as they attempt to develop the most precious commodity known to the budding cyclist...balance. We might let go for a second, but we are always ready to swoop in at the last moment…before the cyclist loses her balance thereby suffering the inevitable crash. The challenge for the young rider with this stage is to apply a consistent force with the pedals in order to carry them smoothly through the rougher parts of the ride. This was the stage my daughter was now struggling with.
What Mikayla had decided was the biggest challenge here was dealing with what we will forever remember as being called ‘the wiggle’. You see, when you go too slowly, or apply unequal pressure with your feet, you begin to wiggle. Your handlebar wiggles to the left....then it wiggles to the right and then your entire bicycle wiggles uncontrollably from left to right…and before you know it, the wiggle has taken over. And after the wiggle takes over, there you are, lying bruised on the pavement...and the wiggle has won. My daughter was in the early stages of mastering ‘the wiggle’.
And when you are figuring out the wiggle, you are almost ready for (what I recall as being the difficult stage for a parent) ...and the most painful part of parenting…the “standing on the sidelines” stage. This is when we must let the learning rider do it all on their own. And, I am happy to recall…she did! She started out well. Both feet on the pedals. She looked confident. She pedaled with her left, then her right. A little wiggle to the left… good recovery! Watch out for that curb…Oh! That was close! A little more wiggle.... a little more... come on you can do it, you shout! Oh…I don't think she's gonna make it!
Whenever we come to Ascension Sunday, I find it helpful to hold in mind where we are in our Christian journey. We are at the end of the 50-day Easter season. Our task through this season has been to find a deeper spiritual understanding of the nature of the resurrection. We learn the Easter story as children and we continue to deepen our understanding in increasingly complex ways. What does it mean for Jesus to have been raised? To have returned? To connect us fully with the Holy? We receive this Easter story from a time that believed in a 3-tiered universe of the heavenly realm – above; of the depths of hell – below; and of the earthly – in which we live in today. Yet, many (or all) among us have witnessed (and experienced) heaven and hell in their daily lives. The reason that I told the story of learning to ride a bicycle is because that is what we are doing with our faith. And, I would suggest, we must never stop at the “Training Wheels Stage”. Indeed, there is a time for the training wheels, but as we grow we must remove the training wheels and find a deeper, more mature faith that informs real life.
So, as we grow and mature in our faith, we move to a deeper understanding of what Easter, this essential part of our spirituality, is all about. We move from the mystery of the empty tomb that the brave women discover and those who follow have the task of figuring out. We greet one another with the faith proclamation “Christ is Risen! ~ He is risen, indeed.” And we have faith-work of considering what the “indeed” part of that statement really means. “Indeed” he has risen (we proclaim)…and throughout Easter (especially) we have been pondering what this “indeed” actually means for our living.
In each of the different years, the assigned lections focus that consideration of our faith. On some years, we read of post-resurrection stories of the Risen-Christ visiting the disciples in the days following his resurrection. This year, we focused on some of the gifts that the post-Easter community received. We considered the Easter gift of ‘Comm-unity’ where the risen Christ allows us to see beyond ourselves and unites us into a diverse group that celebrates our diversity. We considered the Easter gift of ‘Empowerment’ where the power of the Risen Christ empowers healing, brokenness and pain to be overcome. We also considered the Easter gift of ‘Vision’ where scales fall from all of our awareness helping us “see” in the myriad ways in which we take in the joys, pains and needs of the world. And, finally, we considered the Easter gift of a “fresh breath of air” that we are all offered with this new way of life that is born through the resurrection.
On Ascension Sunday, we have the opportunity to live in God’s glory…to reflect God’s glory…to further allow God’s glory to shine today! For Ascension Sunday is this core realization that Easter is now…that we are resurrection people…and the new life of God is birthed for all today, and every day. Indeed! Christ is risen!...Indeed! Easter was not just 50 days ago. Understood correctly, Easter is today…and tomorrow…and EVERY DAY that we live our faith as God’s Easter people! Indeed! Christ is risen! Indeed!
So…we have done a lot of theology. The challenge with this proclamation is living it. It is always much easier to say, than to do. Tuesday’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas is one which touches the depths of our humanity to the very core. 21 of God’s beloved murdered, 17 wounded…all of us in tears. And we are confronted by the reality that hell is not a distant place that people can be sent…hell is a place that many are living in today. The Easter faith is one which allows us to bring life to even the most painful of situations. While some will be forever stuck in the grips of death ~ if the shooter had lived, there would have been calls for the death penalty. Yet, an Easter faith allows us to find new life through this tragedy. Perhaps new life will be found in the vision of what moving further in the direction of peace and safety, rather than the ready access to firearms. Perhaps new life will move us further in the direction of community as we foster communities of love and care, rather than ones which allow such violence to grow inside an individual. Perhaps new life will allow us to heal as we collectively mourn, collectively learn, collectively care for sister / brother. Perhaps new life will allow us we move a little further away from hell on earth and a little further towards heaven on earth. And when we do this, we move a little further towards the Risen Christ walking in our midst…Indeed!
At ages 22 and 18, I am proud to report that my daughter and son are both fine cyclists now. And I can proudly report that I was racing down a mountain with my daughter, and I can barely keep up with her! But, we only get there when we remove the training wheels. What might it look like to remove the training wheels of our faith and truly live as Easter people? Embracing the presence of the Risen Christ in the here and now…and living that reality? It will be that which we pray for each week: “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”.
When the power of God’s grace overcomes the law of gravity…and we live as Easter people.