Friday, June 02, 2006

The Hound of Heaven

The Feast of the Ascension
The Hound of Heaven

I found myself thinking about my childhood dog "Pal"; a collie who on the night my dad was buried, lay at his side by his grave to howl the night away in a paroxysm of grief.
Whether this actually happened I don't know but it is a grand story and my Irish grandfather turned the phrases of his story telling craft with great skill and occasionally some embellishment.
My dad's death at Christmas when I was the age of 7 was a "signature" moment in my life and it has led to many a poignant Christmas ever since. It also led me to the priesthood. The discovery that God's goodness made a place for my dad in God's heart made me aware of the utter dependence we have on God's goodness for all those we care about including ourselves. I thought I'd better tell as many people as I could about God's goodness.
I find it amazing that when Jesus was taken up to heaven right in front of their eyes...they went all about the world with proclaim the good news, whatever that was. Whether this really happened or not, I don't know, but it is a grand story and the folks of the ANE Hellenistic world had a wonderful capacity for crafting good stories for whatever purpose they found fruitful. But it was the JOY they experienced that caught my eye. It was like the joy I experienced as a child when I discovered God's goodness.
And so they said Jesus rose from the dead. Even if that were true, resurrection stories had found their way into Egyptian, Greek and Roman philosophies before. It even crept into some wonderful Old Testament passages particulaly in Job and in the Psalms.
But the message that caught even deeper into the heart involved the whole matter of forgiveness.
When Jesus walked among us, he had a particular affinity for a message of pardon and forgiveness. He began with that.
He spoke of forgiveness even before we knew we'd done the unforgivable. The blind man, the leper, the tax collector, the lame, the prostitute, the poor, and all the host of sick and mentally ill had all been locked out of heaven by the righteous Temple infrastructure. Scribes, Pharisees, Saducees all had a good handle on the Holiness code. But the ones Jesus sought out like all the above had long ago lost any shot at Holiness or inclusivity in God's goodness.
Then along came Jesus. He the Holiest of the Holy and utterly blameless One by any and all measures, found in the untouchable masses something beautiful for God. And one by one he touched them, forgave them, did the loving thing and healed them, fed them, and gave them food and drink that satisfied their deepest cravings. He ascribed to them a sense of value that was utterly unattainable in this world or so it seemed.
Listen to the Power of God in today's letter to the Ephesians "I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power."
That power was not just the power over death but of sin as well. The wretched of the earth had found a champion. The outcast has found the sharp sword of inclusivity cut for them against those powers that sought to destroy God's creatures. And most of all, God power was shown in Jesus because these ordinary, ordinary folk, long since driven away from God, were now most decisively "of God" and it was the Son of the GOD/MAN who said so.
He even went so far as to tell us to go out into all the world and bring that good news to ALL.
Listen to the words 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."
Now I submit to you that to bring that news to Jerusalem, though dangerous in the wrong hands was potentially all right. Even in Judea, holiness to the select few would be acceptable. But Samaria is anathema. The Samaritans were at the bottom...the scuzzy bottom of the hierarchy of holiness...well below the most immoral imaginable perversion you can possibly conjure.
And yet this Jesus told us to get out there in the uttermost furthest corners of the world and preach forgiveness, and Christ's power over sin and death.
It must have been life changing to discover that this Jesus, who had touched so many lives in so short a time; three years we're told, was dead and then buried. When he rose from the dead, that really did it. The forgiveness and goodness that he told us about became not a "good feeling" or a philosophical insight. It was a FACT!
That's the amazing thing about Jesus ascent to heaven for me. It filled us with JOY! God's goodness overflowed like my cup overflows. He died for my dad who didn't even have a clue he was going to die. He hadn't gotten around to repentence; hadn't turned to Jesus or any of that. He just up and died all of a sudden. And I missed him sorely as I still do. But Jesus found a special place for him in his heart. What a JOY that is to know.
So let the Hound of Heaven Howl...Jesus has ascended to the Right hand of God. He will come again to be our Judge. And as far as I'm concerned God is so very good indeed.

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