Why Are You Standing Around Looking Up to Heaven?Posted: June 1, 2014
Why Are You Standing Around Looking Up Into Heaven?
SLIDE 3: ASCENSION OF JESUS
Our scripture this morning is the story of the ascension of Jesus according to the Gospel of Luke. We might wonder about the accuracy of the details of the narrative since both Matthew and John have radically different accounts of this last post-resurrection appearance, and Mark has no post-resurrection appearances at all.
SLIDE 4: NO JESUS CANNOT DO IT FOR US
In our story the disciples were asked to gather on the Mount of Olives to receive final instructions from the Risen Christ before he disappeared. In verse 6 we discover why Jesus needed to exit the stage, for one of the disciples asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Lord will you do it for us? Some of Jesus’ followers still didn’t get it. No! Jesus was not going to restore the Kingdom of Israel, and no Jesus cannot do it for us.
SLIDE 5: LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR CAN BE DIFFICULT
Those of us who claim to love God and love Jesus actually have to get ourselves together and do more than just believe in Jesus, whatever that means, we have to actually follow the way of Jesus. We have to help heal the sick, share with the poor, and bring the hungry spiritually and physically to the Sharing Table, so they can be fed. We have to love one another for the common wealth of God to come alive among us. And remember loving one another doesn’t mean loving an idealized Jesus up in the sky it means having to love our neighbors next door and here in church – the ones who give us such a hard time and gossip about us and sometimes are just plain mean and difficult. It’s hard. Ask Jesus. He didn’t die of natural causes.
SLIDE 6: DO JUSTICE LOVE KINDNESS WALK HUMBLY
So Jesus warned the disciples and us, it is not for you to know the times or the seasons. Don’t sit around waiting for Jesus to return. God is not going to do it for us. God will send the Holy Spirit to inspire us and energize us, but we still have to walk the walk, talk the talk, and love others as Christ has loved us. God is a mystery. Stop trying to figure God out, stop trying to game the system, and just do what God wants us to do – to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
SLIDE 7: WHY ARE YOU STANDING AROUND LOOKING UP TO HEAVEN?
So Jesus disappeared, and the disciples were sort of in shock – clueless. They were all standing around looking up in the sky with their heads in the clouds and then two figures in white showed up. In the scriptures, when figures in white show up it is usually angels. And these angels were sent to ask a simple question. “Why are you standing around looking up to heaven?” You have work to do. Jesus has given you a commission. You need to be about the tasks that have been laid upon you.
SLIDE 8: THE QUESTION IS THE ANSWER
The angels gave the disciples an answer by asking them a question: “Why are you standing around looking up to heaven?” Jesus offered people answers by posing questions. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Why do you see the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye and pay no attention to the 2 X 4 in your own eye? What good will it be for a person if she gains the whole world, yet forfeits her soul? Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Jesus was like that. Apparently angels are too.
I like this story because I think it is right on addressing some of the problems of the church. Jesus says, “Come follow me. Love one another as I have loved you. When you care for one of the least of these you have done it for me.” And what does the church do instead? So often we are sitting around with our heads in the clouds staring off into heaven. We want God to save us, and then leave us alone. Thank you very much God don’t call us, we’ll call you.
SLIDE 9: SEEKING COMFORT FROM FAITH
Now I know life is difficult. We suffer through the burdens of making a living. We have demanding jobs. We are often worried and anxious. What if we lose our job? We live in an economy with people who cheat us and try to exploit us. The difficulties of working out relationships with family, children, partners, and friends. And then there are the challenges of growing older the aches, the pains, the prospect of illness and dying. So I know we often come to Jesus and the church seeking comfort and peace. Jesus does say: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
SLIDE 10: COMFORT WITHOUT COMMITMENT IS CHEAP GRACE
God does offer comfort and peace, but comfort without commitment is cheap grace. Dietrich Bonhoeffer the 20th century German theologian used the phrase while writing from a Nazi Prison. In a book titled The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer pointed out before World War II that we cannot know the true peace and comfort of God unless we are willing to follow the way of Jesus. And sometimes following the way of Jesus, especially living under political oppression like Nazi Germany can prove to be costly. Indeed following Jesus ultimately cost Bonhoeffer his life. He was hanged on April 9th of 1945 two weeks before the Flossenburg concentration camp was liberated by Allied forces. As Bonhoeffer was taken away to be executed he is reported to have said, “This is the end — for me, the beginning of life.” He paid the price of following Jesus opposing and resisting the Nazi regime, and he died with real grace.
SLIDE 11: WHAT WOULD I DO?
Even in our comfortable circumstances of living in the relative religious tolerance of 21st Century America, following the way of Jesus may still cost us something. In my Dear Friends for June I wondered aloud, what would I do if the State of Alabama passed a Gay Marriage Ban similar to North Carolina, providing for a criminal penalty for any clergy person performing a marriage ritual for a couple who did not have a marriage license. I think my answer is I would probably have to go to jail, rather than allow the State of Alabama to dictate what kinds of rituals our congregation can or cannot perform in our own sanctuary. That would be like the State legislating how we celebrate communion. The state can legislate whether or not they will grant legal status to a marriage, but they cannot prescribe whether or not we can celebrate a wedding.
SLIDE 12: MARTIN NIEMOLLER
I am reminded of a poem by Martin Niemoller a German Protestant church leader under the Nazis:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
SLIDE 13: COMMITMENT ALWAYS CARRIES A COST
Commitment always carries a cost. As David said in II Samuel 24:24 when someone offered to donate an offering on the King’s behalf: “I will not make an offering to the Lord that costs me nothing.” At the very least following the way of Jesus requires commitment. If we want to follow the way of Jesus at minimum we must give of ourselves in service to others.
SLIDE 14: DIERTICH BONHOEFFER – WHO AM I?
On the issue of commitment it is too easy to be hypocritical. When are we ever doing enough? So allow me to close with a poem written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in prison entitled: “Who am I?”
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other people tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?