SUNDAY SERMON: Saying goodbye

Rev. Stephen Baldwin

NT: Acts 1.1-11

GOSPEL: Luke 24.44-53

We all have different ways of saying goodbye. I don’t just mean the words. “See you later” or “yall come back now, you here?” I mean the way we go about the words we say. 

When Betty says goodbye to you on the phone, the conversation is over. Sometimes she will hang up on you when you’re still talking. But she’s done, so it’s goodbye. 

When most Appalachians say goodbye, it’s a whole process. One that takes longer than this sermon!

It goes something like this: You say goodbye, you hug, you start telling stories, you smile, you laugh, you remember you need to leave, you say goodbye again, you start to cry, you hug…again, you make plans for the next time you’re going to see each other, you pull away, you thank them for the time you spent together, you say goodbye again, you blow kisses, you wave, and you finally leave. 

              That’s the Appalachian goodbye. And I think it’s that way because we feel so closely connected to one another. We don’t want to be separated. 

Today is Ascension Sunday. The day Jesus said goodbye. 

Well, not to sound like an Appalachian, even though I am, but he didn’t exactly say goodbye as much as he said “see you later.” And he didn’t make it quick. It took a while. He hung around a long time after he was resurrected. He kept on teaching and leading. Even in today’s story he leads the disciples on a walk out of town all the way to Bethany so they have some time to transition, before he ascends from this world to the next. It’s hard to say goodbye, even for Jesus. 

Have you ever wondered why he didn’t stay? Heaven knows we could use the help down here. Traditionally, the importance of Ascension Sunday has been the passing of the torch. He said goodbye because it was our turn to step up. We needed to learn his teachings, put them into practice, and be stewards of this world. 

Would it have been easier for us if he’d stayed? For heaven’s sake, yes. But Jesus doesn’t do what’s easiest for us; he does what’s best for us. He raised us right, he taught us his ways, and now it’s up to us to live faithfully. 

The ascension was a new beginning for the church. It sets in motion world missions and schools and hospitals that have all developed over the centuries as means of living our faith. For even though he said goodbye, he did not leave us alone. His teachings stay with us, guiding our thoughts and decisions each day. And the power of the Holy Spirit remains with us, just as he promised. 

He promised we would not be left alone. He said we would be given the power of the Holy Spirit, to act as witnesses for him from that point forward. And on this Sunday in particular, I can think of no greater witness to Christ or manifestation of the Holy Spirit in this world…than our mothers. And all those who have helped raise us right over the years. Mother’s Day is a particularly important day because we too often take mothers for granted. They do such a good job at holding it all together for the rest of us, we come to assume it comes easily. 

So for young moms feeling frazzled and failure-prone; for working moms juggling kids and career; for single moms striving to do it all by themselves; for grieving moms who’ve lost a child; for wishing-to-be moms struggling with infertility; for foster and adoptive moms and moms of blended families whose love stretches beyond biological boundaries; for moms who are now serving as caretakers for their mothers…we are witnesses to your love.

We celebrate all of you today, including those we’ve had to say goodbye to who live on in our hearts. For whether it’s saying goodbye when they drop us off at kindergarten or when they leave this world, bound for heaven, the experience teaches us about the depths of love Jesus has for us. It’s because we are so closely connected that we don’t want to be separated. 

And we don’t have to be. For we are all witnesses. Witnesses of the love of Christ, which transcends this world into the next. Witnesses of the love of mothers, which gives us a glimpse of what heavenly love is like here on earth. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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