Why Do You Stand There? My Ascension Sunday Sermon

Text: Acts 1:6-14

“Why do you stand here looking up toward heaven?”

Imagine this scene-
In a grand conclusion to an incredible, roller coaster of a journey-
a journey filled with awe-inspiring highs and terror-inducing lows
a journey of mind-boggling lessons, inspiring promises, and confusing challenges
a journey filled with extraordinary visions and miracles
Jesus is meeting with his disciples one last time.

They’re all gathered together, much like they have been for the last 40 or so days.
And Jesus gives one more promise
the promise that they will all be receiving the power of the Holy Spirit to continue his work here and throughout the ends of the earth
A power greater than what they could imagine
and then

Jesus airlifts out of there in this grand, theatrical departure and disappears into the clouds.

Being a movie guy, I imagine it like the end of ET- remember that movie- when the kids are all standing there watching ET’s spaceship lift off after his family and friends have come back to retrieve ET and take him home
and the kids are just standing there in awe watching the ship as it takes off— wind roaring through their hair and the lights from the ship illuminating their faces and lighting up the night sky.
And just like that, its gone
and the darkness returns
the wind dies down
and the quiet settles back in
and they’re left standing in wonder at the experience they just shared

And at this point in our story
After Jesus has ascended into heaven
two men dressed in white appear beside them and ask,
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up toward heaven?”
Almost like, “guys, guys- there’s nothing more to see here!
Jesus… has left the building.”

In many ways this is the ultimate conclusion to Jesus’ ministry because it officially establishes Jesus as Lord.
Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father.
And this is not a location, obviously
but more of a change of status
And not the change of status like on Facebook where you change from “Single” to “Married” or “It’s Complicated” but something more along the lines of
“Now imparted all power and authority over heaven and earth”
Jesus is now Lord of all
He now reigns over all of Creation.

And this isn’t the end of the story, really.
But only the beginning
The ascension doesn’t mean the end of Jesus’ ministry
It doesn’t mean that Jesus has finally departed forever,
releasing the world to its people and their own devices
The ascension doesn’t mean an absence of Jesus
quite the opposite
The ascension initiates the next chapter in God’s mission in the world

Before he ascends however he reminds the disciples that they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit
Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is and always will be present among them
And this power will now animate them individually and collectively so that they now will become even larger players in God’s mission
they will have a part in continuing Jesus’ work on earth.
God has impressive things in store
The excitement— the real work—has only just begun.

The men in white basically ask them, “why are you just standing there?”
Why are you just standing there?
There’s nothing else up there to see!
Everything is here and now
Real life.
You know what to do
So go do it!
You are now to be Jesus’ witnesses here in Jerusalem and then spread out to Judea and Samaria and eventually to the ends of the earth.
The work now falls on you.
But not just you alone, of course
You now have the power of the Holy Spirit
which is Christ’s spirit working in and through you
to strengthen you
to motivate you
to animate you
to go be active collaborators with God’s redemptive work

But sometimes, we still find ourselves looking up to the heavens
waiting for divine intervention
waiting for God to act in some miraculous way.
There’s this story about

A fellow who was stuck on his rooftop in a flood.
He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.”
The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.”
So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.”
To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.”
To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

Oftentimes we are so busy looking up that we miss the active presence of Jesus in our midst.
We are so busy waiting for God’s action that we miss the cue that God’s action is often OUR action
It is God working through us to fulfill God’s mission

Where is God prompting you?
Where are you being invited to participate in God’s mission here on earth?
To collaborate with God.

We are already equipped.
God has blessed each of us with unique qualities
special gifts
that empower us to fulfill God’s mission

“Oh no, not me” you might say to yourself
I’m just a simple person—
Nothing really special about me—
WRONG
God doesn’t make junk, you might have heard people say
and that’s true
It’s likely the case that God is gently tapping you on the shoulder
inviting you to participate
but you, too, might be stuck there, standing around looking up into the clouds
waiting for God to act

Friends, God is acting
right now
in each of us

“why do you stand there looking up to heaven?”

It makes sense that this passage for today is 1st chapter in the Book of Acts,
this exciting, breath-taking depiction of the early days of the church
It reads almost like an adventure novel
with its depiction of the spreading of the gospel
from Jerusalem to the whole Roman Empire
from its Jewish roots
to the Gentile world
The book is sometimes called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because of the writer’s strong emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.
How the Spirit formed and guided the new church.
From a small group of Jewish believers
to a worldwide movement

Yes, thankfully, the disciples didn’t just stand there, looking up
waiting on Jesus to return
They eventually returned to Jerusalem
Gathered together in prayer
and waited on the arrival of the Holy Spirit
the same Holy Spirit who makes Jesus Christ present to us and in us today

They launched their destinies of being the church and building the church
around the world

Cross and Crown, how are we being the church?
How is the Holy Spirit working through us?
Are there ministries you feel we should be doing?
important initiatives we should be pursuing?
People we should be helping?
Is there a way we could more actively collaborate with God not just around the world but right here in Matthews? In our own communities?
Let’s talk about it
Let’s mobilize
We have the power of the Holy Spirit
God’s spirit
Urging us forward

Let’s not find ourselves, mouths agape, simply standing there
staring into the heavens
waiting for a “sign”
Let’s open our eyes to the world around us
full experiencing the ongoing presence of the Risen Christ work in us and through us
to continue the redemptive work of God in the world.
Amen?
Alleluia
Amen.

A Mother’s Day Sermon

Text: John 14:1-14

The setting is Jesus’ farewell address at his last supper with his disciples.
A lot has taken place.
Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet and has explained to them what this means.
He has foretold his betrayal by Judas, and Judas has slipped out into the night.
He has told his disciples that he will be with them only a little while longer, and that where he is going, they cannot come, at least for now.
He has also foretold Peter’s imminent denial. So with all this, the disciples as my mom would say, are “fit to be tied”.

No wonder they’re troubled! Their beloved teacher is leaving them, one of their own has turned against them, and the reliable leader among the disciples is said to be on the cusp of a great failure of loyalty. It is as though the ground is shifting beneath their feet.

Ever felt like this?

Jesus responds to their anxiety by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
It’s like he’s saying, “look at me—don’t worry”

Jesus calls them back to this fundamental relationship of trust
He assures them that he is not abandoning them as they might fear.
But rather, he is returning to his Father and will prepare a place for them there as well.
So do not despair
There are many dwellings in his Father’s house, he tells them, and once they are there, they will be with him and dwell with him in this intimate relationship.
Jesus is using this image to comfort and reassure the disciples whose world’s are in the midst of being turned upside down.
He’s going ahead to get things all ready for them.
and this will be a place of loving provision, comfort, and safety.

Depending on the translation, different words have been used to describe the image Jesus is employing. Many of you might have grown accustomed to hearing “in my father’s house there are many rooms”
A more literal description is “dwelling places”
But nevertheless, the imagery of houses, rooms, and dwelling places all
describe a place where the disciples will reside intimately with God.
Safe from the troubles that plague them
Protected from the people who threaten their lives

For most of us, at least
Home is a lot like this, don’t you think?
A place of loving protection and comfort.

When I left for college and started life on my own as an adult, any time things got overwhelming or maybe even a little scary-
maybe I was faced with a difficult decision or
experienced a loss or disappointment
or maybe was just stressed out about an upcoming test or presentation
a good respite from life was to go home for the weekend.
Like most, this made my mama very, very happy.
It didn’t happen too often but when it did she made it count

She would have my room all ready-
my bed would be made up and ready
clean sheets and blankets turned down
with fresh cut flowers on the bedside table
The refrigerator would be filled with my favorite dessert at the time- caramel flan
And not just one but usually six!
and for dinner I would have my favorite meal, steak peas and mashed potatoes

This explains a lot about me doesn’t it?

I felt loved and secure and comforted
Whatever was troubling me at that time would melt away
And I would be able to reenter my life recharged and ready to conquer the world

Maybe this describes what Jesus is trying to do with the disciples.

As I studied this passage this week and reflected on the fact that today is Mother’s Day, I was struck by how maternal Jesus’s actions are here.
Yes, Jesus is a man- but doesn’t mean he can’t be maternal.
I think all of us are capable of demonstrating both paternal and maternal characteristics regardless of our gender.
I’ve known several people who actually shared that it was their father who was the more maternal one growing up.
Conversely, I’ve known guys who learned the most about being a man not from their fathers, but their mothers.
When Kristan was sick, I certainly had to hone my maternal skills to close the gap before she was able to come home.
And I was able to do this by imitating the two best moms I know- Kristan and my own mother.

Just like my mom did for me when I would come home for the weekend, Jesus is tabling his own needs and instead focusing on the needs of his disciples. Comforting them, reassuring them, and lovingly preparing them for what’s ahead.
More concerned about making sure they are ok then whether or not he was.
Putting their needs first.
Remember- he’s on the way to the cross and he knows this- but instead, he’s more concerned about their concerns.

He is comforting
He is compassionate
He offers security and gentle guidance.
Sounds like a lot of moms I know.

We can learn a lot about God and Jesus by looking to our own moms or mothering figures

Because whether is was your own mother, or your grandmother, aunt, friend, or really anyone
chances are, someone along the way “mothered” you, in a way that made you feel the same way Jesus is helping the disciples feel at that moment.

There is a hymn called “Mothering God you gave me birth” which we will sing shortly.

The inspiration for this hymn comes from the writings of 14th-century mystic, Julian of Norwich
When Julian was 30 and living at home, she suffered from a serious illness and was presumed to be near death. As a result, a priest came to administer the last rites of the Catholic Church. As part of the ritual, he held a crucifix in the air above the foot of her bed. Julian reported that she was losing her sight and felt physically numb, but as she gazed on the crucifix she saw the figure of Jesus begin to bleed. Over the next several days, she had a series of sixteen visions of Jesus Christ. Julian wrote about her visions immediately after they had happened in a book titled, Revelations of Divine Love. It is believed to be the earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman.

Julian of Norwich went on to live a life of prayer and solitude and became a noted counselor and theologian. She continued writing, oftentimes focusing on these visions and the impact they had on her faith and her theology. In her work, she described Christ as our “true mother,” one who is wise, loving and merciful. Although she did not have children of her own, Julian emphasized how the bond between mother and child is one of the best examples of an earthly relationship which comes close to the relationship a person can have with Jesus.

One of intimacy and compassionate care.

And the comparisons between Jesus and mothers don’t stop with just the lovey dovey— remember the story of Jesus bursting into the temple and overturning the tables? Yep, that would be my mom also if anyone ever crossed me or my sister.
Hell hath no fury like a mama whose babies have been hurt! Can I get an amen?

Rabbi Maggie Wenig used maternal imagery in a popular sermon she wrote about God. In it she says:

“God holds our face in her two hands and whispers, “Do not be afraid, I will be faithful to the promise I made to you when you were young. I will be with you. Even to your old age I will be with you. When you are grey headed still I will hold you. I gave birth to you, I carried you. I will hold you still”

Trusting in God to
Be protected.
To be loved and assured.
To Safe and comforted.
These are the aims of our maternal figures whoever they might be.

And these are the aims of Jesus with the disciples in today’s passage.

So on this special day when we honor our mothers and mothering figures, I pray that in this maternal nature you will catch a glimpse of Jesus who empowers all of us to act in this manner.
and in doing so you will also draw closer to a God who offers you the same loving care.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.