Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
“JESUS AND THE CLOUD”
May 13, 2018
Christ Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
It is the nightmare of every parent. Some foolish text message on a cell phone, embarrassing photo on Instagram or ill-advised posting on Facebook surfaces months or even years later to savage the reputation of their son or daughter. It could cost their child a place on the team, enrollment in the college of their dreams or worse yet, a job or career. Who would have ever thought some silly posting from years ago could come back to haunt you? Social media, email and other such wonders of modern cyberspace can become the snake that bites, the thief lurking in the darkness planning to break and enter or predator hidden in the tall grass waiting to pounce. What is this unseen danger that threatens to unearth and expose any mistake from the past? THE CLOUD!
In this age of internet communication and social media THE CLOUD is a massive collector of information. For example, Google is probably the most powerful organization in human history because it collects, stores and edits information on everybody and everything . . . including the government . . . and keeps it forever. In addition there is Amazon, iCloud, Apple, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. all collecting information on you and often selling it to the highest bidder. You may never even know about it. What they collect does not even include the government. The NSA finally admitted a year ago that it records all our cell phone calls. It claims that it does not listen to them. Yeah! Sure! It is scary when you do an internet search and then within minutes pop-ups appear on your screen directly related to the very search you thought you were conducting in the privacy of your home. It feels like someone is watching you, which in fact is exactly the case. Worse yet, all this information is recorded, stored and never erased in THE CLOUD.
George Orwell wrote about a world like this way back in 1949 in his famous dystopian novel “1984”. There he described the frightening world of 1984 where “Big Brother” watched everyone and controlled everything. No one could escape the eyes and control of the totalitarian state. One look at our world today and I begin to think that this scary world of “1984” is beginning to happen. Orwell was right. He just got the date wrong. Instead of “Big Brother” we have THE CLOUD. THE CLOUD is the ever present computer hidden the “sky” (or more likely in some anonymous concrete building in bleak industrial parks scattered all over the country). THE CLOUD keeps a track record of our habits and behavior. Everything about us is digitized and stored. Every mistake, misstep, failure, error, blunder and sin has a footprint. It is all there in THE CLOUD lurking in digital code waiting for someone to use it to control us, punish us or sell us something.
We are terrified that, if it fell into the wrong hands, THE CLOUD will be the end of us. Every day we see lives ruined and reputations destroyed through the unveiling of a secret someone thought would never be uncovered. Some revelations are warranted. Justice is served. The abuses committed by Hollywood celebrities and government officials deserve to see the light of day. However, the unveiling of other secrets seems to do no one any good except for satisfying someone’s thirst for revenge or financial gain at the expense of someone else. The bottom line is that THE CLOUD, for as much good as it accomplishes, puts the fear of God in all of us.
On this Mother’s Day, I remember much of the good advice my mother gave me: “Be careful what you say. It might come back to haunt you.” Today mothers say, “Be careful what you text, email, Facebook, tweet, Instagram, let alone what you say for it WILL come back to haunt you.” The mothers who love us also warn us. Their children need to listen.
It is a scary world out there. It is enough to make us want to run and hide. However, today we celebrate the wonderful good news that someone went to THE CLOUD and undid everything THE CLOUD could ever hold against us. Someone has gone to THE CLOUD not to hold our sins against us and use them to punish us, . . . but to forgive us from a past from which we thought we could never be free. That someone is Christ. He wipes our track record clean. He gets rid of the incriminating data. He give us a new life and a new resume. What we celebrate today shouts to the world that he is in charge and calling the shots and not the computers that measure our every step and count our every mistake.
Today we re-enacted an old tradition long forgotten by many in the church. The Paschal Candle has been burning at the font every service since Easter reminding of those 40 days after Easter when Jesus repeatedly showed himself alive and risen to his followers. Then on the 40th day Jesus ascended up into a cloud and heaven. We celebrate that dramatic event today, the Sunday after Ascension Day. That is why the Paschal Candle was extinguished during today’s First Reading and a helium filled balloon ascended before us during today’s Gospel. Perhaps such symbolic acts seem too literal and crude for our modern minds. Did Jesus really go “up into heaven?” Where is heaven? Is it actually “up” because “up” is “down” for those on the other side of the earth?
Not only does the Ascension story reflect a worldview we no longer accept, it proclaims a reality that simply does not seem to be true. Jesus risen and ascended simply did not create a world where sins are forgiven and scores don’t count. The old world ruled by THE CLOUD still seems to be grinding away. Track records still count. Grades in school still matter. Bottom lines still determine the future. Debts cannot be erased. The past cannot be undone. The Me Too movement, Black Lives Matter movement and even the phenomenon of Donald Trump all signal that the past cannot and will not be forgotten. Just in case they fail to convince us, THE CLOUD stands behind them all as The Great Enforcer making sure that the rules are kept, justice is carried out and violators pay!
It is a pretty bleak picture. Because THE CLOUD has everything on us, because THE CLOUD has all the dirt digitized and recorded, no one gets off the hook. No one escapes. No one gets out alive. No one gets to by-pass the cemetery.
Except for what we celebrate today! Jesus ascended and disappeared into a cloud that day outside of Jerusalem. It was not just any cloud. It was THE CLOUD. Jesus went to the Great Enforcer in the sky, to almighty God, and reminded God that there is only one track record that God needs to remember: not the track record encoded and programmed in THE CLOUD . . . but Jesus’ track record, Jesus’ befriending of sinners, Jesus’ faithfulness, Jesus’ welcome of the poor and outcast and Jesus’ love for those whom THE CLOUD had calculated were unlovable. Jesus did it all the way to the cross. Jesus did exactly what God had wanted him to do. Therefore God raised him from the dead . . . and ended the power of THE CLOUD for all who trust in Jesus.
That why Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. When we confess in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,” we don’t literally mean that there is a specific place in heaven where Jesus is sitting or that God actually has a right hand, a left hand, a right foot, a left foot, etc. What we are really saying is that Jesus has been honored by his Father for the job he performed so faithfully on earth. “At the right hand” means a place of privilege and honor. With apologies to any left handed people here this morning, as a right handed person uses his right hand to do what he does best, so also, when God is doing that for which God wants to be best known, God does it through the risen and ascended Jesus “at his right hand.” Jesus is God’s “right hand man.”
So, where is heaven? It is wherever Jesus is present acting as God’s right hand man. And where is that? Wherever Jesus is present doing his heavenly, right-handed thing, wherever the forgiveness of sins is being offered, wherever Jesus is busy at work undoing THE CLOUD, deleting all the incriminating data and replacing it with his righteousness. Today we would call it a new “operating system.”
After Jesus disappeared in THE CLOUD, two angels told the confused disciples to hang in there and wait. Jesus would return and replace THE CLOUD with that new operating system. Luke calls it “power from on high.” In ten days it was uploaded. That is what we will celebrate next Sunday, the Day of Pentecost. On that day in the midst of the sound of a rushing wind, tongues of fire dancing on the heads of the disciples and their miraculous ability to speak in a variety of foreign languages, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples. The church was born. The new operating system of the Kingdom of God began to create a new world.
(Don’t forget to wear red next Sunday when we celebrate this great day.)
In this new world under this new operating system, only Jesus matters. Because of Jesus we get to live a new kind of life. Because of Jesus our sins our deleted and forgiven. Even though the world might still hold them against us, God will not. With God on our side like this, we can do bold and daring things. We can even defy THE CLOUD . . . by caring for those who have failed, by befriending the weak and outcast, seeking the common good instead of only “what’s in it for me,” working for justice for all and not just a privileged few, by voting in our elections, by offering our time, talent and treasure to some of the service opportunities coordinated by our Service Network (several of them are described in today’s bulletin) . . . things like LCFS First Aid Kits and the Immigrant Welcome Center, Habitat for Humanity and even VBS.
THE CLOUD has been undone. Christ is risen . . . and ascended . . . indeed! Hallelujah! A new world is upon us. Thanks be to God!