Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord-Year B
Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mk 16:15-20
God is not dead
The other day, a fifth grade student of Our Lady of Sorrows School approached me and asked whether I have had the opportunity to watch the movie “God’s not dead.” She asked this question because of my usual greetings “God is good all the time” which she thought I got from the movie. When I told her I haven’t watched the movie, she gave me a gist and recommended that I watch it. I am extremely thankful to little Emily and some of her classmates who recently narrated that movie to me. In brief, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), an evangelical college student, enrolls in a philosophy class taught by Professor Jeffrey Radisson (Kevin Sorbo), an atheist, who demands that his students sign a declaration that "God is dead" to get a passing grade. Josh is the only student in the class who refuses to sign and is then required by Radisson to debate the topic with him, with the class members as jury.
Radisson gives Josh twenty minutes at the end of the first three lecture sessions to argue that God exists. In the first two debates, Radisson has counter arguments for all of Josh's points. Josh's girlfriend Kara (Cassidy Gifford) tries to convince him to either drop out of class or follow Radisson's rules, fearing that standing up to Radisson will jeopardize their academic future. She eventually breaks up with him when he refuses to disown his belief in God. Ultimately, it comes down to the third and final debate between Radisson and Josh, who again both make compelling points. Josh then halts his line of debate to pose a question to Radisson: "Why do you hate God?"
After Josh repeats the question thrice, Radisson explodes in rage, confirming he hates God for his mother's death that left him alone despite his prayers. Josh then casually asks Radisson how he can hate someone that does not exist. In the end, Martin (Paul Kwo), a foreign exchange student whose father had encouraged him not to convert to Christianity so he can stay focused with the class, stands up and says "God's not dead." Almost the entire class follows Martin's lead, causing Radisson to leave the room in defeat.
The feast of the ascension which we celebrate today, forty days after the resurrection is the proclamation of the power of God that is at work in Jesus Christ. It buttresses Jesus’ claim to be equal with the Father: Everything that the Father has is mine (Jn 16:15). In other words he is invested with supreme authority. By taking his seat at the right and of God, Christ has assumed authority as Lord of heaven and earth. The right hand position signifies ruler, power, dominion, authority. He is now on the throne. The scriptures tell us, “God mounts his throne with shouts of joy. The LORD, with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises.… the Lord ascends with trumpet blast( Ps 47:5-6).
The psalm calls us to rejoice and be glad because he is our Lord, intercessor and our defender. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians: “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”(Phil 2:9-11).
Moreover, the gospel today speaks of the power of his name: “All who believe in his name, they will pick up serpents with their hands and, if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them, they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover, they shall trample underfoot serpents and scorpions and they shall not be harmed because he is with them.” It is for this reason that our prayers are always concluded “through Christ our Lord who lives and reigns forever and ever.”
It is evident in Psalm 37: 5, that if we commit our life to the Lord and trust in him, he will do it for us! But why don’t we use that name to drive away the demonic influences on our lives when he has asked us to do so? In this regard, we can say: In the name of Jesus, depart from me, spirit of overeating! In the name of Jesus, depart from me, spirit of Lie-telling; in the name of Jesus, depart from me, spirit of lust; In the name of Jesus, depart from me, spirit of laziness; In the name of Jesus, depart from me, spirit of bitterness!
God is not dead. When we look at the alarming rate of evil, disasters, accidents, godless ideologies, in our day and age, we are sometimes moved to wonder whether God still reigns. The same questions are raised in the second Psalm: why do the nations conspire? Why do the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth waging wars against the Lord and his anointed.” The psalm continues, “But the Lord is on the throne watching, and he laughs.” Indeed, He is a patient king, he is not quick to pass judgment. Nonetheless, he is the Alpha and Omega, all time, all power belong to him. Life then is like a movie; it is only at the end that you can distinguish the hero from the villain.
God is not dead even when bad things happen to good people. It is not usually a pleasant experience when I pray over someone whom I want God to heal, yet I see clearly that the person is passing way. Similarly, it bothers us to see innocent ones perishing in a disaster, or diagnosed with a terminal disease or going through pain. What is life all about when an innocent child is born to grapple with an infirmity his entire life? And what about the young mom who doesn’t live to see her one month old baby because of cancer? A little boy who had just lost his Dad asked me: “Father, why does God allow good people to die? He went on, “instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why can’t God just keep the people he has made?” We can’t pretend to offer answers to all the tragedies of life.
Even as a priest, I had to come up with a philosophy of life when I couldn’t understand the mysterious ways of God. And since then, I am able to cope in whatever situation life has to offer- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here it is: “God knows why!” In everything that happens, I am consoled with my motto: “God knows why.”
There is a telling conversation between God and a man which I would like to share with you. Perhaps some of you have come across it. It goes thus:
Man: God can I ask you a question?
Man: Promise you won’t get mad…
God: I promise
Man: Why did you let so much stuff happen to me today?
God: What do you mean?
Man: Well, I woke up late
Man: My car took forever to start
Man: At lunch, they made my sandwich wrong and I had to wait
Man: On the way home my phone went dead, just as I picked up a call.
God: All right
Man: And on top of it all, when I got home, I just wanted to soak my feet in my new foot massager and relax. But it wouldn’t work! Nothing went right today! Why did you do that?
God: Let me see, the angel of death was at your bed this morning and I sent one of My Angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep through that.
Man: (humbled) Oh
God: I didn’t let your car start because there was a drunk driver on your route that would have hit you if you were on the road.
God: The first person who made your sandwich today was sick and I didn’t want you to catch what they have, I knew you couldn’t afford to miss work.
Man: (Embarrassed) Okay
God: Your phone went dead because the person that was calling you was going to give false witness about what you said on that call, I didn’t even let you talk to them so you would be covered.
Man: (softly) I see God
God: Oh and that foot massager, it had a shortage that was going to throw out all of the power in your house tonight. I didn’t think you wanted to be in the dark.
Man: I am sorry God
God: Don’t be sorry, just learn to trust me…in all things, the good and the bad.
Man: I will trust you.
God: and don’t doubt that my plan for your day is always better than your plan.
Man: I won’t, God. And let me just tell you God, Thank you for everything today.
God: You are welcome my child. It was just another day being your God, and I love looking after my children.
Dear friends, God is not dead. He knows what He is doing. When things seem to go on a downward slope in our lives, families and community, let us never forget that God is on the throne. His Ascension is eloquent proof that he is constantly watching over us. Like Josh in the movie, let us be his witnesses in a society that proclaims daily by godless ideologies that God is dead. We can’t afford to trade our faith for grades, graduation, money, etc. If we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything.