I've been here ten months. Not a huge amount of time, but enough to start learning some basics about each other. If you haven't caught on yet, I'll tell you a secret. I like questions. Good deep questions. Questions that can be looked at and analyzed and pondered. Questions without answers or questions without easy answers. I like questions, and we get two goodies in the passage from Acts today. The feast of the Ascension is always celebrated on the fortieth day of Easter, typically a Thursday, and so we celebrated Ascension Day this past Thursday. The feast of the Ascension celebrates the day on which Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection and appearances in Israel. The story is best told in Acts as we heard it this morning.
The first of the two good questions is from the disciples who are walking along talking to Jesus. The disciples ask Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" Its such a simple question. Yes or no? Easy, is it the time? However the question belies a very simple assumption. The disciples still think that Jesus is going to overthrow the Roman rule of the nation of Israel. You and I both know, he wasn't going to do that at all. The disciples, however, still don't get it. The whole mission hasn't been about restoring the nation of Israel. In a very major way, Jesus had already done restored Israel, just not in the way that the disciples were expecting. He did restore the people of God to the kingdom of God, bringing them back into relationship with God. Unfortunately, he didn't also overthrow the Roman Empire. Though of the choices, overthrowing death or the Roman Empire, I'm glad Jesus chose death. Probably just because the Roman Empire eventually died of its own accord and I am very grateful that Jesus saved us all from the clutches of sin and death.
Jesus does answer the disciples question. However, Jesus doesn't give them a Yes or No answer. He tells them it is not for them to know when the Roman Empire will fall. It is not for them to know the times or periods of the future. Those are set by the Father. He does tell them that they will receive power with the Holy Spirit and that they have a job to do as witnesses throughout the earth proclaiming about Jesus. It wasn't the job that they wanted, but it is the job that they got. Right before Jesus ascends to heaven, he tells the disciples what they are to do. Then he gets lifted up and disappears from their sight.
Which leads us to the second good question. The disciples are standing there, dumbfounded I am sure, having just watched their leader disappear into the sky above them, when some men in white robes, probably angels, ask them a question. There was probably some momentary confusion among the disciples when they realized they were being addressed and some questioning as to who these men were. I bet some of those disciples could have stood there all day wondering what had just happened and what was going to happen next. "Men of Galilee, the Angels say, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?"
While the men in white robes, the angels, then tell the disciples some information about Jesus and his coming and goings, there is an implication to this question. I don't know about you, however any time I was asked why I was standing around looking at something as a child, the implication was always, "Don't you have something you should be doing?" Maybe that's just me and some hold over guilt from my parents. The disciples weren't going to find anything by standing and staring into heaven. Jesus had given them a job to do immediately before he left them and there is a sense that they need to get moving on the task ahead of them. The disciples never answer the question the angels ask them in the story. It is more of a rhetorical question after all.
Thinking about these two questions leads me to wonder what it would look like if we asked them in our context here at St. John's. We probably don't wonder about Jesus overthrowing the Roman Empire and restoring the nation of Israel, however, we do ask similar questions to Jesus. When Lord, are you going to take care of the hungry? When Lord, are you going to end war in the world? When Lord, are you going to come back and restore justice in this world? When Lord, are you going to cure cancer? When Lord, are you going to come and fix my stressful situation? We as human beings are susceptible to wanting someone else to take care of our own problems for us. What assumptions about Jesus are we making at St. John's? How have we missed the point of Jesus' mission in the world and how have we missed our own part of it because we want someone else to take care of it?
The second question is as rhetorical and as poignant in our context at St. John's as it is for the disciples. Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? Jesus has given us a job to do and yet, sometimes we are better at staring into heaven than what we are called to do. You may ask, What work do we have to do? Like the disciples we are called to be witnesses to Jesus to the ends of the earth. Granted that does sound a little big and vague. I mean, that could mean a whole lot of things.
When I think of all the things we could do, my brain gets overwhelmed... like a overused circuit... it tends toward breaking. When the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, in the story we will hear next week, as Jesus told them they would, they start speaking in different languages! What could we do with the Holy Spirit? What could we do if we didn't keep ourselves hemmed in? What could we do if we were willing to dream big?
Once we are given the Holy Spirit in baptism, there is really no call for us to be living normal ordinary boring lives. We have each been made extraordinary. With the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God breaks through and transforms moments into extraordinary times. What would St. John's be if we had confidence and faith and hope? Confidence in God to lead the way, faith in God to transform our actions and hope in ourselves to create goals and to achieve them? It may seem crazy, and I'm perfectly okay with y'all thinking I'm a little bit crazy, just not too much, I have passed multiple psychological exams... however, It may seem crazy that I have started day dreaming and planning and thinking ahead nine years to when St. John's hits its bicentennial. In nine years, this parish, this congregation will be two hundred years old. Two hundred years. Years of abundance, years of scarcity, years of sorrow, years of joy, always connecting to God through worship and prayer and fellowship. What will St. John's look like in nine years? What will we have dreamed and done together? How will we have witnessed to Jesus to the ends of the earth?
What would you do if you had no boundaries? no consequences? no fear or lack of money? I have a day dream book where I have written down things I have thought I would like to do some day. It spans a wide range of things. Many of them will never happen, though they are fun to think about and figure out what they would be like. Some of them are possible and for those few that I have sensed the greatest desire to do, I have what I call planning pages in further along in the notebook. On those pages, I write down what it would take to do those things. What would I have to do now, what would I have to save for? I outline things. Granted, I'm a planner, I'm a strategist. I plan ahead. Work out back up plans, pack emergency equipment. Not everyone does this. Some of us have vision, some of us get stuff done. Some of us plan ahead and work out the details. We are given different gifts so that we can work together as a community and support each other, so that we are not all silos, working by ourselves, getting burned out. We can hand things off when our gifts have been exhausted so that we can move on to the next project.
I do not have the answers. I do have the questions. And I have the willingness to lean into the questions, to go on the Adventure, to see where the Holy Spirit is leading us. Please don't just stand there staring into heaven, follow Jesus' call to be a witness to the marvelous work that he has done!