Jesus isn’t calling us to take up arms against the world, but to take the world up in our arms through powerful acts of love, compassion and justice.
just some thoughts that ascend from Acts 1:6-11
This afternoon, my daughter will join the other seven young women from Girl Scout Troop 1169 for the graduation ceremony she never dreamed of.
It’s not her official graduation that her school is throwing online. Hopefully this one will be better. She will get to give a speech instead of sending in a 120 character tweet for her 10 second slide show graduation.
But let’s be real - we never really graduate. We just move forward, as Seth Godin notes, “experiencing incompetence on our way to mastery.”
Today is also Ascension Sunday, the time in the church calendar when we commemorate Jesus’ return to heaven. As my friend Dawn said, “It’s the day Jesus started working from home”
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
Jesus believes his students have earned their degrees and are ready to hit the ground running. But before he can even bless them, or give them some parting words of advice, the disciples ask one last question; “Is this the time for the Messiah to finally return Israel to its former glory?”
It’s not the first time they’ve asked this question, but it will be the last time Jesus reprimands them for doing so. “It’s not up to you to decide when God acts.”
Despite all that they have learned, the disciples still can’t quite get their heads wrapped around the idea that God isn’t going to come riding in on the back of a warhorse but upon their shoulders. God is already hard at work, redeeming the world through the work of human hands and the journeys of human feet.
On this mountain stage, the disciples are tasked with a calling. They are not given the summer off before real life kicks in. Instead, they quickly exchange their caps and gowns for suits and ties as Jesus employs them to, “Go be my witness in Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth.”
If we don’t let that sink in for a moment, we might miss a big point. Especially one that pertains to being the church.
You see Jesus isn’t just saying go knock on the doors of houses on your block. He’s saying leave your neighborhood and go to the other side of the tracks, the wrong side of town, the places you’ve always been told to avoid. Go love and serve your enemy, and care for people who do not look like you, or think like you, or talk like you. Some of these people will try to kill you, and others will succeed at doing it. Go there.
It’s so like Jesus, isn’t it, to push us out to the margins, to care for those whom society has deemed unworthy or unlovable. Go there, and show them what God’s love looks like and teach them what it means to be called children of God.
As I read this passage, I thought about my daughter who is about to go out into the world. On one hand, it terrifies me because, let’s face it, the world is still far removed from the kingdom of heaven Jesus spoke of. On the other hand, it excites me to know that she will go and do some amazing things that will make God’s kingdom come alive. It’s a risky choice we are all given. One that proves God’s faith in us.
In his classic book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Dr. Seuss reminds us that
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.
But on you will go, though the weather be foul.
On you will go, though your enemies prowl.
Onward up many a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike.
And I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems, whatever they are.”
Filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples become what we are today – the church, the visible body of Christ. They set out to go to the furthest corners of the world to love God, to love others and to serve both. Had they sat around waiting for Jesus to return, there’s a strong chance we would not be here today. I like to think Jesus envisioned New Church Sherman Oaks when he planted that little mustard seed on that Palestinian mountainside.
Just as it was then, we too are called to continue the mission of Christ – ushering in the Kingdom of God. We are to be “a society on earth,” as William Barclay wrote, “where God’s will would be as perfectly done as it is in Heaven;” ushering in a kingdom founded on divine “love and not on earthly power.”
Jesus isn’t calling us to take up arms against the world, but to take the world up in our arms through powerful acts of love, compassion and justice. We are to be both the Great Commandment people, loving God and our neighbors. And the Great Commission people who carry the love of God in Christ Jesus to the ends of the earth.
As their story unfolds, the disciples show us that life doesn’t just magically become easy once we get our diploma. Being the church is not a day job, it’s a lifelong calling – to be imitators of the One who has blessed us with the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God. Just as we inhale that Spirit into our lives, so too are we called to exhale it by bearing witness to God’s redemptive glory.
As Henri Nouwen once described the church, we are called to be “windows constantly offering each other new views on the mystery of God’s presence in our lives.”
Nouwen sees this when we pray and worship together. But I also believe we do this when we share our joys and our burdens together, when we feed and care for one another, or stand united for justice for all.
These are just a few ways that we are made aware of the presence of the Spirit among us, ... and a few ways to allow God’s glory to shine through us.
We can look up to heaven and wait for Christ to re-appear. That’s okay. I faithfully believe one day he will. But what if that day is today? Jesus has called us to bring his love, mercy and grace into every village, every home, and place.
And so in closing I leave you with these parting words of advice
When it comes to love I hope you never think twice.
Brother’s and sisters, aunts, uncles, dads and mums
Open your hearts, there’s still work to be done
Be your name Fiona, CJ, Nicole or Shea
Run off to great places. Today is our day!
God’s kingdom awaits
Don’t doddle or stray
And always begin with bowed heads that pray:
Barclay, William. The Acts of the Apostles, Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: Westminster PRess, 1955.
Bartlett, David L, Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010.
Godin, Seth. seths.blog. May 23, 2020. https://seths.blog/2020/05/a-community-of-practice/ (accessed May 23, 2020).
Seuss, Dr. Oh, The Places You Will Go! New York: Random House, 1990.