Gotta Keep Moving

A Sermon for Sunday, May 28, 2017. The Ascension of the Lord Sunday, Acts 1:6-12

The Ascension of the Lord—it’s a peculiar event, don’t you think?

Jesus, after being raised from the dead, spends 40 days hanging out with the disciples, teaching them about the kingdom of God. And then, whoosh! Up in the air he goes. Artists’ renderings of this scene are quite surreal and a bit ludicrous, as if aliens are beaming Jesus up. Whoowhoowhoop!

Jesus’ ascension is an episode that many preachers and churches avoid entirely during the church season because it is odd and difficult to grasp. It’s not grounded in the mud, spit and blood of life. It’s not as substantial as Jesus’ birth into poverty, his ministry among the sick and the poor and his brutal death. Even resurrection—the breath and heart beat returning to the body, the seemingly dead now come alive—is more palpable than ascension.

And yet as lofty and bizarre as Jesus’ ascension seems, it is what people of faith have sought to comprehend for thousands of years. Jesus’ ascension, his grand departure from the earth and his friends, is reflected in many of the stories we tell—stories that try to make sense of this epic moment:

Like Superman the man of steel, who often leaves the city of Metropolis and rises above to keep a watchful eye over humanity.

Like E.T. the extra terrestrial who tells the boy Elliott that he loves him and then boards his family’s space ship to return home to his planet in the stars.

Like Maui the charming demigod who embraces the young chieftain Moana with a hug and then leaves by transforming into a great hawk that soars off into the sky.

Like the zany Genie who, upon being freed from the lamp by Aladdin, zooms into the air and packs a suitcase for an adventure of his own choosing.

Like Mary Poppins the magical nanny who concludes that she has successfully brought a family back together and then, with a wink and a smile, flies away clutching her umbrella.

Ascension in those stories is about goodbyes, endings and beginnings, transition and change. And Christ’s ascension is all of those things and more—the shaping of Jesus’ glory as the one who conquered death and fear; the establishing of Christ’s rein above all worldly powers; and the fulfilling of God’s promise that human beings are in possession of and destined for a future brimming with hope in Christ’s mercy and love.

Naturally, it’s a lot to take for the disciples to take in and, understandably, they have anxiety about what is occurring before their eyes. With nervous excitement, they ask Jesus: “Is this when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

The disciples know God is triumphant and yet Jesus, their friend, teacher and savior, is leaving them. They want to know what is going to happen and they can’t bare the thought of Jesus not being among them.

The disciples are likely wondering:

  Is Jesus going up for a few minutes to recruit an angelic construction crew before coming back to rebuild Israel?

    Is he going up in the clouds for a few hours for a period of prayer, rest and renewal before returning to end all of the world’s problems with a word or the touch of his hand?

When Jesus tells them they don’t need to worry about the time in which the kingdom of God will be formed, the disciples realize deep in their hearts that the Jesus they knew—the Jesus who preached and taught as they traveled dusty roads from one town to the next; who shared meals with them and healed and fed the despised and downtrodden—wasn’t coming back.

Their hearts ache with a truth they don’t want to accept. So they stare up in the sky, hoping the Jesus they knew will make a quick U-turn and re-enter their lives as before. They know time is marching forward but they’re not ready to do the same.

Sound familiar?

We don’t like to part with someone we deeply love and cherish (and move forward without them) anymore than the disciples, even when we know in our heart of hearts that it’s usually what is meant to be.

It’s why we get choked up or melancholy at the end of a movie or TV episode, when a main character we’ve grown to appreciate, bids adieu. Those stories remind us that nothing stays the same, that the people closest to us will one day leave and that change is inevitable, whether we enjoy it or not.

Of the multitude of viewing options available these days, no show embraces the concept of goodbyes and change better than the long-running international sci-fi hit Doctor Who.


For the non-Whovians out there, Doctor Who follows the adventures of a Time Lord, a humanoid alien known as The Doctor who explores the universe in his TARDIS—a sentient time-traveling space ship that appears as an ordinary blue British police box.

In 1966, after the show had been on air for three years, William Hartnell, the first actor to play Doctor Who, became very ill. So the show’s creators invented a plot device in which the character of The Doctor would regenerate or take on a new body and personality as a way of recovering from something that would kill an ordinary person. This allowed producers and writers to cast a new actor into the role without losing momentum in the breadth of the series.

Throughout the show’s run, 13 actors have played the role of the Doctor—all becoming beloved for the unique persona they brought to the character. But no matter how many times fans watch The Doctor regenerate and know that change is going to occur—that an actor you’ve come to enjoy will be replaced by one who is unfamilliar—they become a bit emotional.

That was certainly true for this fan and many others when Matt Smith exited the show as the 11th Doctor and Peter Capaldi took over as the 12th Doc in the final moments of the Dec 25, 2013 episode “The Time of the Doctor.” The 11th Doctor’s trusted companion Clara Oswald (played by Jenna Coleman) knows her friend and mentor is regenerating, but she can’t bear to see him go. And as he is transforming, The Doctor reminds Clara about the importance of change while also remembering his previous companion, the late Amy Pond:

            “We all change, when you think about. We are all different people, all through our lives. And that’s ok, that’s good, you gotta keep moving so long as you remember all the people that you used to be,” the Doctor reminds Clara and viewers. And Clara, speaking on the audience’s behalf, says, “Please, Don’t change.”

Don’t change. Don’t leave.

Those words are imprinted on the disciples’ faces as they look longingly into the sky as Jesus ascends into the heavens. And they’d probably remain stuck there, fixated on the clouds for hours and hours awaiting Jesus’ immediate return, if the two angels hadn’t appeared.

The angels tell the disciples they have work to do and they need to get busy. Christ has chosen them to be witnesses of love and grace to the ends of the earth. There’s no time to gaze at the sky. The disciples gotta keep moving to share and embody the story of God’s love in the entire world.

So often, I think, Christians get stuck when significant change is happening, especially in the life of the Church. Many congregations struggle with saying goodbye to their long-time beloved pastors who accept a new call or retire. They struggle with saying goodbye to programs that are no longer viable or sparking joy.

They grapple with welcoming new leaders and visions for ministry. They have difficulty letting go because, in the words of Marie Kondo (the author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up) there is “an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”

Most of you in this congregation know that we are in the midst of a process of letting go. As a way of honoring Dave Fry’s legacy as the founding pastor of 32 years and his retirement in November, we’ve embarked on a capital campaign–Gifted Past, Bold Future. The campaign’s purpose is to give gratitude for years of faith-shaping ministry as we strive to pay off the mortgage debt and make room for new ideas that will shape people’s lives.

And while Pleasant Hill is embracing the change, particularly Dave’s farewell, in a healthy way, I imagine there is still some anxiety among us. While we realize that Dave’s retirement is unavoidable, we don’t want him to go. We don’t want things to change.

A Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church without Dave Fry seems strange after decades of service. We know deep in our hearts that this church won’t quite have the same relationship with Dave as it does at this moment. Eventually, Dave will not be in his office every day or preaching from Sunday to Sunday or teaching classes or making pastoral visits or doing baptisms, weddings and funerals. Dave’s not ascending into the clouds, of course, but he will no longer be present among the congregation as he is now and has been for so long.

Like Clara Oswald, we might be in bit of a shock to see someone else in the head of staff role. And the new pastor, like the new (12th) Doctor, might be a little bewildered about how to “fly this thing” or operate Pleasant Hill.

But if we love God and treasure Dave’s ministry, we won’t be stuck in the past or resistant to change or looking off in the distance or leave the new pastor on their own to figure things out. Instead, we’ll answer Christ’s call to be the Church, to be his followers, to be his witnesses for love and grace for all people in every time and place.

And although Dave won’t be roaming these halls one day, and although Jesus is not physically present, we won’t truly be alone in our endeavors.

As Sirius Black tells young Harry Potter who laments never knowing his parents, murdered when he was a child: The ones who love us never really leave us, you can always find them in here.” (points to Harry’s heart)

Therefore, let your hearts not ache or be torn or anxious, for not too long at least. Dave will soon leave us with an amazing legacy to build on for many years to come. There is much to do and to experience as time goes onward. In the beautiful parting words of the hobbit Frodo to his best friend Sam in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:

         “You have so much to enjoy and to be and to do. (Your) part in the story will go on.”

Jesus has gone ahead of us, preparing for a future full of hope. And he beckons us to follow and to continue the story that God began–a story with many twists and turns. And Christ assures us that something inspiring is coming—like a mighty rushing wind and tongues of flame—to guide us as Christians and the Church on the journey ahead.

Therefore, we gotta keep moving.



“Here & Be Heard”

A Worship Service Reflecting on the HS Montreat Youth Conference, Sunday June 16, 2013

Call to Worship: John 1:1-18 (The Voice-A New Bible Translation)

Hymn: “Come and Find The Quiet Center”

Scripture:  Romans 10:15-11:2a, James 2:5-9 (The Voice-A New Bible Translation

High School Montreat Youth Conference Video


As a long-time movie fanatic and comic book geek, I eagerly read nearly every review about the new Superman film Man of Steel. While there were varying opinions on whether the story was stupendous or stupid, the critics did mostly agree one aspect of the latest reincarnation of the 75-year-old hero: IT’S LOUD!

“Busy, bombastic,” said a reviewer.[1]

“Lots of noise and clutter,” claimed another.[2]

“When I came out,” wrote one columnist. “My ears were ringing as though I’d been beaten around the head with tin trays.”[3]

According to the critics, the movie might even be too loud for the red caped hero who is known for his super hearing among other abilities.

It’s not too surprising, I suppose, that a blockbuster summer film is noisy. On average, the big budget action-adventure films register at 100 decibels in a movie theater, which is like having a running chain saw sitting in the seat next to you!

And I guess it’s not too shocking that manufactured noise is such a common complaint…when we are surrounded by so much of it on a daily basis! Finding a quiet space to escape the cacophony of noises made by human hands seems near impossible in the early 21st century.

Bernie Krause, an author and musician who records nature sounds for film and TV, said that in 1968, in order to capture one hour of natural sound, it would take him 15 hours of recording time.

But today, to get the same hour of undisturbed sound, requires 2,000 hours of recording time![4]

Think about that for a moment. Less than 50 years ago, Krause would only need to record for a little more than half a day to get an hour’s worth of a blue jay singing because of the rare truck that passed by on the highway. noise2

And now that process would take him nearly 3 months due to the overwhelming noise from airplanes, cars, businesses, factories, gadgets and every beep, blip, bop, boop, crash, bang, zoom in between. That’s A LOT OF NOISE!

Scientists and health care professionals have determined that 183 million people are regularly exposed to noise levels labeled as excessive by the EPA.[5]

Studies by the World Health Organization reveal that North American children “may receive more noise at school than workers who spend eight hours in a factory.”[6]


Researchers also have concluded that 40-50 million Americans have a condition known as tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ear when no sound is actually present. And one-quarter of them experience tinnitus so severely they have to seek medical help.[7]

We live in a noisy world. And it’s getting louder and louder and louder every day.

With no long hours of sheer silence in sight, this leads many of us to wonder:

In the midst of this ever-increasing noise in our lives, when do we ever have the chance to be still and listen for God? When do we ever cease an opportunity to be fully present to what God is saying to us in the stillness? When do we ever carve out space in the here and now to speak to God and be heard?

255648_10151400578276517_106725758_nThese are the questions that I and a group of 27 High School youth and 5 adults from Pleasant Hill (along with hundreds of others) had to ponder and discern during the recent Montreat Youth Conference in North Carolina.

Through the Montreat experience, we learned that we have to first let go of a lot of the balls we are trying to juggle in the air— some of the busyness and responsibilities and distractions that keep our attention from God. And as we let go of those things that sidetrack us, we have to make space so we can hear God’s Word/Call/Voice. The Voice of God that has always been present in Creation…

In the beginning,

Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.

The Voice was and is God.

This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;

His speech shaped the entire cosmos.

Immersed in the practice of creating,

all things that exist were birthed in Him.

His breath filled all things

with a living, breathing light—

A light that thrives in the depths of the darkness,

blazes through murky bottoms.

It cannot and will not be quenched….

He entered our world, a world He made;

yet the world did not recognize Him.

Even though He came to His own people,

they refused to listen and receive him….

But Jesus the Anointed offered us gifts of grace and truth.

God, unseen until now, is revealed in the Voice,

God’s only Son,

straight from the Father’s heart.”

God is with us and God speaks to us,

and God hears us,

God listens to our hopes, our dreams, our joys,

our anger, our sorrow and our cries.

God listens even when we are angry at God and have hit the ground with our knees.

God listens despite the mess and brokenness and pain we find ourselves in.

God listens because God knows we are complex human beings for whom life is a daily struggle and never 100 percent easy all the time.

God listens actively, not passively. God engages us in the struggle and expects us to engage the Divine.

God listens to us with a deep, unconditional and abiding love, and God expects us to give the same attention to our Creator and to all whom have been created.

And the devotion we give to God and others through active listening is a ministry.

Listening is a ministry we are called to do. Therefore the Church has to always strive to be a place where people feel listened to.

Because God listens to the voices in our culture whom the majority tries to suppress—

the lonely

the lost

the abused

the addict

the prisoner

the slave

the sick

the homeless

the malnourished

the immigrant

the gay teen

the single parent waitress

the black school janitor

the foreign convenient store employee


turning-to-one-another-lIn her book, Turning to One Another, Margaret Wheatley says that listening moves us closer (to the other) and enables us to become more whole, more healthy and more holy:

Not listening creates fragmentation, and fragmentation always causes more suffering…This is a very noisy era. I believe the volume is directly related to our need to be listened to. In public places, in the media, we reward the loudest and most outrageous. People are literally clamoring for attention, and they’ll do whatever it takes to be noticed. Things will only get louder until we figure out how to sit down and listen.[8]

Once we have truly listened, we must then go out to speak …boldly, courageously and lovingly for those whose voices are quieted.

“It is good that we are here,” the Montreat conference keynoter reminded us the last day we spent on that sacred mountaintop, “but it is better when we take the experience out there.”[9]

We must share the message found throughout scripture—particularly in today’s readings from the letters of Paul and James—

that God is faithful 

God has not, and will not, abandon His covenant people

God has picked the poor of this world (and the down trodden)  

and we are to Remember God’s call to love others as you love yourself

It’s a message that our youth took seriously as they came down the mountains of Montreat to bring what they heard into the world.

One of them, Molly S., a recent high school graduate, said she feels more convicted than ever that she is called to speak to others about God:

I am being called to courageously speak to new people I meet in college. The ones that are starting over new from high school. I want to encourage them. I want to reach out to those who are on the outside.

Another youth, Courtney H./Lauren B., who just completed her freshman/sophomore year in high school, discovered that speaking courageously starts with one step, as she will share with you now:


(Courtney—8:30 am service)                    

At the beginning of the week, Claire Keyser, one of our adult advisers, told the group that Montreat was like a bubble. It was a bubble that you could come into and be loved and cared for and listened to no matter what. For me this was exciting! As a freshman I had dreamed of going to Montreat for as long as I could remember.  Now I had finally made it. The theme “be here and be heard” would play an important part in my week. From my past, I have been excluded and pushed around for a long time. Montreat gave me a place that I could be listened to and my own voice be heard.                    

In one sermon, Amos, the conference preacher, told us “to have the courage to speak up for others” now that is not the easiest thing to do but it what we are being called to do. The first night we were at Montreat, Colby Geil pushed me into a Montreat “tradition” of yelling out your small group numbers to find other members. To begin he called my number, “22! 22!” I soon caught on and my voice grew stronger and my call was answered with others yelling back “22!” Colby had the courage to speak up for me and help my voice to be heard.  From that night, I met people who I am now good friends with. I enjoyed getting to hear their beliefs and also their struggles; some of which many people in our group were going through.                

At the end of the week, Scott, the conference keynoter told us, “We all have to come down the mountain sometime” we cannot be protected by the Montreat bubble forever. We have to step outside of our comfort zone. For me that will be going up to those, who like me have been pushed around and becoming friends with them or simply lending a helping hand. It might just make a world of difference for that person. For others that risk could also be simply asking to talk to someone when you are feeling down or that risk could being going on a mission trip. It differs for each person. But by going up to those in need, we can be there and be heard.


(Lauren—11 am service)

I was a paranoid child. I checked to make sure the doors were locked at least five times before hesitantly falling into restless sleep each night. I went to school praying to God that I hadn’t left my straightener on and I washed my hands at least thirty times every day. I embraced my overactive imagination as a curse, creating all sorts of “worst case scenarios.”                  

Middle school taught me one thing: “look out for yourself, watch your back because trust is a weakness.” If I could adopt the “every man for himself” principle then maybe I would be okay. Life is only good for those on top. And I definitely did not want to know what it was like being crushed at the bottom. For me, the most terrifying thing in the world is letting go. To feel a vast nothing below me and trust that God will catch me.              

Trust is not a weakness but strength because it requires the greatest bravery I’ve ever encountered. Jesus calls us to leave our doors unlocked, our hearts open, and our souls free falling. God is not in the deadbolts, the germaphobia, the anxiety, and the need for control.             

Serving in the Dominican Republic with my family during Spring Break taught me one thing: “my life is a gift for others.” I found security in “the least of these.” While holding a Dominican child, I not did stop once to think about her lack hygiene or even shoes. I was set free from the ropes of trivial, earthly things that had been ho


lding me down, keeping me from God. Those who are “on the bottom” taught me more in a week then I had ever learned in my whole life. Yeah, it’s great that I was born in America where I have the ability to go to college and come home knowing that there is going to be plenty of food for me and my family.            

But the Dominican Republic taught me that I have an obligation to God and to myself to provide for those who have nothing. God is reckless, restless, and limitless. He lives in me; he lives in you; and he lives in a little Dominican girl.            

And he’s always on the move. I know when I tried to control my life, I almost broke it. Life is waiting for the ones who let go. And letting go has given me the courage to speak for impoverished, those deemed less fortunate. Who am I to doubt what the Holy Spirit can do through me? Jesus calls us to leave our doors unlocked, our hearts open, and our souls free falling. 


Like these youth and many more who have gone ahead on this journey of faith,

let us make time to listen to God,

let us make time to recognize God’s presence among us,

let us make time for our voices—which proclaim God’s love and grace for the least of these—to be heard!



“Revolution” by Kirck Franklin (Montreat Youth Conference Energizer)

“It is good to be here (in this sanctuary) but it is even better to share what we have heard and experienced out there. Do so in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit this day and forever more. Amen.”

Hymn: “Here I Am, Lord”