BY REV DR JOHN FRAUENFELDER
Joseph Healey in his book Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom and Joy, records a parable about an African two villages separated by a river. In each village, there lived a woodworker who knew how to make chairs and the secret of making strong, durable and beautiful chairs.
But the chair maker in the first village was afraid to teach others because he thought they would not make the chairs correctly - and worse, if they did, they could cut into his business. So he jealously guarded his work.
He became suspicious of anyone with wood, worried that they may have discovered his secret. He would ridicule them and warn them not to try and make a chair themselves. So he made all the chairs in the village, but no one wanted to go near him.
The young men of the village interested in woodworking left the village rather than ask to learn from him. The chair maker eventually died alone - and his secret with him.
But the chair maker in the second village did not keep his knowledge to himself. He helped anyone who asked what wood to use, how to plane and cut the pieces, how to mix the glue to assemble the pieces. Over the years, many of the young men of the village served as his apprentices.
Sometimes one of them would discover a way to improve the chair. The master chair maker would encourage the apprentice to show what he discovered to others. As a result, the chairs in the village kept getting better and better. People from other villages would come and buy their excellent chairs - and soon tables and benches he and his apprentices began to make.
When people praised the master chair maker's work, he would laugh and say, "I did not build these chairs alone. These young men have improved my chairs. I am getting old, but these young men will continue building better and better chairs. I have given my skills and knowledge to them and they have given their love and friendship to me. Together we have done far more than if I had worked alone."
This old African story of the generous chair maker mirrors the meaning of today's celebration of the Lord's Ascension.
Jesus, the master "chair maker," who has taught his disciples the "secrets" of "making" God's kingdom of reconciliation and peace, now turns the work over to us. On this feast of the Ascension, we are invited by Jesus to continue his work - work that has been vindicated and perfected in the Father's raising him from the dead.
We who have seen and heard the story of Jesus are now called to bring that hope into the lives of others and into the life we share as families, as the Church, as the human community.
In every kindness we offer, in every word of encouragement and comfort we utter, in every moment we spend listening and supporting, we proclaim the Gospel of the Risen Jesus. Every good work - however small or hidden - is a sign of Christ in our midst.