Affirmation! From Sky-gazing…Down to Earth- Luke 24:50-53 Acts 1:6-11
Luke and some of the Gospels, tell the story of Jesus departing from this earth and ascending into the heavens. Their story is based upon a cosmology that understands the earth to be three tiered with the heaven—God’s realm, above us, the flat earth upon which we live, and the realm of death below us.
Today’s focus is on this ascension story—Jesus who was taken up into the heavens.
The question is; Did it really happen or didn’t it?
This brings us back to the question; How do we interpret these ancient stories. Do we take them literally or metaphorically? Each one of us has the right to decide how we answer that question. We do not prescribe to someone else how they should believe—at least not in the United Church of Christ.
So let me say that my choice is for a metaphorical interpretation.
The reason I say this is that the way people believed and interpreted the world 2,000 years ago is not the same way we do so today. Science has conditioned us to look at our world in a more evidentiary way.
In those days of giants and sea monsters it was real to them—although no such things actually existed. The Bible mentions them as factual reality. Enough said about that but it is a topic we might want to discuss more after worship one day
As a sideline, Rev. Dawn Hutchings writes an article titled, The Ascension Never Actually Happened – Ascension is Always Happening. ( May 4, 2016)
In it she makes the comment that it is time for Christians to leave behind the Miraculous Jesus and to Welcome the Human Jesus.
So what can we take from this ascension story?
Firstly, it was the task of the earliest Christians to establish Jesus’ authenticity. The had to stress the point that Jesus was an equal among the most revered prophets and heroes of the Old Testament.
It was essential that he be seen to the equal of great figures such as Elijah and Enoch who were also said to have ascended into heaven.
It was an effort to establish the elevated position of Jesus as not just another Rabbi, another teacher.
Something to keep in mind as we wonder what message we take from this story is the reaction of the two men in white robes—angels, who were on hand for revelatory events—who rebuke the disciples as they stand staring at the disappearing Jesus: “Why are you standing there staring stupidly at the sky?” (Anon-cannot find the source)
Which brings me to the second point, the first having been that Jesus is no ordinary Rabbi, but equal to Israel’s greatest prophets. The second point we can take from this story is that Jesus’ ascension is a story of transitioning.
It is their call to transition from “Skygazing” to the issues here on earth where they live.
The question can be asked, would the disciples ever had transitioned into mature and capable people equipped to do the work God had in mind for them, if Jesus had remained their leader. The Gospels often make them out to be rather slow and rather dimwitted at times. There are moments when Jesus is frustrated by their lack of insight and comprehension. Given that they came mostly from the marginally accepted groups of society, but give Jesus a break!
Could it be that they only fully come into their own as fishers of men and women after Jesus departs the scene?
So, what do we take from these two points?
Possibly the fact that to be a Christian in these times we have to begin with Jesus. If our faith in him fails to help inspire us to march to a different drummer, we may need to revaluate our whole relationship with God.
Jesus is no ordinary Rabbi who happened to be part of a best seller. He was the Light of God, the one who is able to change our world, our communities and our own personal lives—if we truly follow him.
The great Russian author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, once wrote,
“We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.”
When we claim to be followers of Jesus, we must consider whether we chase after the “cheap” Jesus—the one we use when we need him in time of crisis, or when we deal with death or when we want our children to be baptized only to disappear from the scene afterwards and never really paying attention to our values and the choices we make.
We pay dearly for such a superficial faith because it remains a weak and ineffective way of living within the Light God offers us.
And let’s not become frozen “Skygazers” always patiently waiting around for God to do something in our midst when God has equipped us to do great things, in God’s name, for each other and for ourselves.
The theory of being kind or forgiving or generous is not the same as being kind and forgiving and generous.
Nike has the motto, “just do it”. It is based upon a questionable ethic but could we not appropriate that motto for our Christian communities?
We know who Jesus was and how he wanted us to continue changing the world—“Let’s just do it!”
We know how to make peace with that person for whom we feel such anger—“Just do it”.
In that wonderful Book of Proverbs we read;
I passed by the field of one who was lazy,
by the vineyard of a stupid person;
and see, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want, like an armed warrior. (Proverbs 24:30-34)
This is not about material poverty. This is about the poverty of compassion, the poverty of caring, the poverty of community, the poverty of faith.
No more sleep, no more slumber and no more skygazing. This is our call to come alive and live our faith.
“Just do it!”