Psalm 62:1-8, Acts 1:1-14
April 27, 2008
“Where do we go from here?” That has to have been a huge question on the minds of the Apostles. In our story for today, the time was after Easter and before Pentecost. And at that time, after all they’d been through, they had to be thinking, “What’s next?”
I know it’s hard for us to think that about the Apostles. After all, they were the leaders of the early Church. They went out to turn the world upside-down! There are countless statues of them, and churches named after them all over the world. And of course, some of their writings have been included in our Holy Scriptures. It’s hard to imagine what it was like for them during those uncertain days, when all this was new! It’s hard to think of them not being “on top of things.”
Just think about it, though. Think about what they’d been through. Think about the recent “journey” they’d been on. They had spent three amazing years traveling the country with Jesus. They had seen him captivate the crowds whenever he spoke. They had witnessed many miraculous things. And they had begun to think he actually was the Messiah!
Then things had gone terribly wrong. Jesus was arrested, and then the unthinkable happened. He was crucified. And that was devastating for them! And it wasn’t just the personal loss, and the grief they experienced. Yes, that was horrible. But besides that, their hopes for the future had been crushed. Remember those two travelers on the road to Emmaus. They said, “But we had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21) All that hope had been shattered. Their dreams for Israel’s future lay in ruin. But then, in their deepest despair, in their darkest hour, the incredible had happened. There was the Resurrection! Jesus had come back to them!
Now it was after that. And now they had a lot more to think about. Jesus had returned from the dead. He told them, as he told Peter in our story from last week, that there would be no going back. Things would never be the same again! He told them they would be his witnesses to the world. He told them to go and make disciples. We’ve looked at all of those things in the weeks since Easter. So much had happened to them since that day. And amid all the uncertainty of the road ahead, I’m sure they had to be wondering, “What happens next?” “Where do we go from here?”
They would soon find out! But for now, they were with Jesus for the last time. And notice here that they still hadn’t given up on the idea of the independence of Israel. They asked him, “Lord, is this the time you’re going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They wanted to know if that was the next thing that would happen. Their hopes for that had been restored! But he answered them, saying “No. And no one knows the time that will happen.” But, then he did tell them what was going to happen next. And I’m not sure if they even heard it, or if it made any sense to them at all. He told them “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And then you shall then be my witnesses in all the world.” That was the answer, although there was no reaction from them. I’m not sure they had any idea what that meant. They probably wouldn’t know until it happened! And then as they were watching, he was “taken up into heaven.”
This is the story of the event that the Church has called “The Ascension.” “The Ascension of Christ.” And the first thing we need to know about that event is that it’s one of those celebrations in the church year that does not fall on a Sunday. Ascension day takes place 40 days after Easter, so that means it’s always on a (what? It’s always on) a Thursday! This year it’s May the 1st. And being on a Thursday, what happens? We don’t notice it all that much!
That’s right. And it’s too bad, because this story is important! It’s important, not just because it’s this miraculous thing that happened to Jesus at the end of his life. It’s also important because it tells us of Jesus’ promise to return! After the disciples watched Jesus ascend into the heavens, they noticed that there were these “two men in white robes” standing nearby. Who do you think they were? Were they Angels? I think so! Remember, angels are an order of created beings in the spiritual realm. They’re not people who have passed away. And among other things they do, angels are God’s messengers. So these messengers were sent to the apostles at that moment to tell them this important thing – that Jesus would come again, “in the same way you saw him go…”
Now, I think you’ll agree, that’s an important thing. But the fact is that we don’t often think of it very often, do we? In fact, sometimes, when we think of this promise of Jesus coming again into this world, we feel like that subject is somehow in the realm of “other people.” That is, it’s more of a concern of Churches that “specialize” in that kind of thing – things like Bible prophecy, and studies about the “end times.” And as you know, there are some Churches that talk about that a lot more than others. In fact, there are some churches that seem to talk about nothing else. Turn on the Christian channels in the middle of the night some time! You find them!
Of course the problem, though, is that while there are some churches that talk about little else but the second coming of Christ, there are other Churches that seem to ignore the subject completely. And unfortunately it tends to be the denominational Churches, like us Presbyterians. As I said, the celebration of the Ascension falls on a Thursday, and therefore isn’t given much attention. And for many of us, we’re just fine with that. The second coming is too uncomfortable or maybe even too “inconvenient” for us to think about. We’re just fine with our lives the way they are going. Christ coming again and all of history coming to it’s climax, well, we’re just not ready for all of that!
Well, I believe we do need to give thought to this event. We need to take it out of the realm of “Thursday” and bring it into the “Sunday morning” of our lives. We need to think about what the Ascension of Jesus and his promise to come again to this earth means to us. Because that’s just as much a part of the story of Jesus as his teachings, his miracles, his Atonement, and his Resurrection. And the disciples weren’t that far off. There actually is going to be a kingdom. And though it wasn’t the kingdom they were asking about and hoping for, the kingdom is coming, and we can’t forget that. And we need to think about how we will be a part of that kingdom.
As we think about that, I think we’ll find that we’re very much in the same state of mind as the Apostles were that day. Like them we’re in that “in between time.” We’re between the time Jesus was first here, and the time of his return. And like the apostles, we sometimes wonder, “where do we go from here.” They couldn’t even begin to conceive of this event called Pentecost, which we’ll be celebrating in a couple of weeks! But, they were open to it. And we need to be open to what may lie ahead for us, too! They became a part of that miraculous event when it happened. And so must we. They didn’t say, “Wait a second, God, this isn’t what’s supposed to happen.” “This is kinda scary.” “This doesn’t ‘fit into our theology’.” Like we’ll soon see, they were open to it. They went with it. And they saw the glory of God!
We need see God’s glory, too. We need to remember that the hand of God is powerful! If you’re not sure about that, go back and read the psalms. There, you’ll get that message. The hand of God is powerful, yet it’s unpredictable, too. Soon same power of God would sweep over these men, and through them, it would sweep over the whole world! It was to be a powerful thing – an unimaginable thing! And these men had to change their whole way of thinking about Jesus and his kingdom and about the way God was working in the world. And I think sometimes we need to be open to that, too. We cannot know the ways God will work.
So, where do we go from here? I think that’s a great question. No matter where we are in our lives, asking that question shows that we understand that there’s still a road ahead of us! Granted, it’s not always easy to know where we’re going on that road. Sometimes knowing the guidance of God, and the will of God for our lives can be difficult. And sometimes we get so set in our understanding about the way things ought to be. or the way we think they should be going, that it’s hard to set aside our understanding and look to God’s.
We know that we need to be seeking the will of God beyond our own. We pray every week, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done…” But we don’t do that very well. And often we aren’t really sure of how to do it. By the way, that’s going to be the subject of next week’s sermon – discerning the will of God. You may want to be sure to be on hand for that.
In the meantime, the one thing we can know from this story is that we can know the God who is above all things. Though we cannot begin to have a full understanding of God and how he works – that’s ok. In fact, understanding that is one of the most important parts of our faith. We cannot understand God fully. It’s impossible! His power is above ours. His wisdom and understanding are far beyond ours. Yet we can be rock solid sure that he loves us. And because of his love for us, we cannot conceive of all the glory he has in store for us. If only we will seek his kingdom – first, as Jesus said. “All these (other) things will be added unto you.” Even though it’s hard to know sometimes “where we go from here,” we can know, as the Apostle Paul told the Ephesians, that God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we could ever ask or think!” (Ephesians 3:20)
Eternal God, we know your love for us is beyond our imagining and beyond our understanding. We do wonder sometimes where we’re headed, and we ask that we can be in better communion with you, so that we can begin to hear your voice and to know better the joy of being part of your kingdom. Fill us with the abundance Jesus talked about. For we pray in his name, Amen.