Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11
There is an obscure story in the book of Joshua concerning a battle between the Israelites and the Amorites. The story refers to a fierce battle, yet God gives reassurance that God would be with God’s people, the Israelites. The interesting twist to the story is when Joshua asked God to stop the sun to allow them more time to defeat their enemy. This request was granted and the sun stopped midday, for an entire day.
It seems this was what the disciples wanted to do in today’s scripture – they wanted to simply remain there, gazing into heaven. They wanted to pause for a while and simply stand and ponder all the wonders they had witnessed first-hand. Perhaps they were a bit frozen in their progression as followers of Christ. Maybe they were not sure of the ‘What’s next’ question. I would venture to say the disciples were feeling the gamut of emotions – extreme happiness, uncertainty, awe, fear. Maybe they were a bit lost as to their next steps, simply wanting to bask in the moment. In essence, they were stuck.
It seems similar to what we sometimes feel at the end of a really great event or party – we don’t want it to end. We just want to stay in that moment and reminisce. Anything after that seems like a let-down. Nothing seems as special as that peak moment of joy. But then we do move on, and somewhere down the line there is another great experience followed by another. When we keep looking forward, we can expect greater things to happen in our Christian walk and our relationship with Jesus the risen Christ.
The disciples were given instructions to stay together in Jerusalem because there was a special gift coming for them. Jesus recognized the power in the community and the importance of being together for the next step in the disciples’ Christian experience – empowerment. What does it mean to be empowered? How do we know when we are empowered by God?
I am thinking we have experienced various kinds of empowerment in our work lives. There is the pseudo-empowerment experience. This is when your boss says you are to take full responsibility for a project, only to have this same person micro-manage everything you do concerning the project. These are the bosses who hover and insist on being copied on every email. These are the ones who want to control every detail of every aspect of your project, while noting in words only that you are in charge. The Bible would refer to these folks as hypocrites. The word ‘hypocrite’ means actor, so in essence your boss stated you were given leadership, all the while acting and maintaining full leadership for him/herself.
There is another kind of empowerment – the kind I call ‘don’t care’ empowerment. Again, you are given responsibility for a project, only this time you receive no guidance whatsoever. You are given full authority but no direction; hence you spend a great deal of time floundering – wasting time trying to figure everything out for yourself. You only know there is a problem when you present your updates to your boss, who will revert to what I call ‘bring me a rock’ syndrome. You bring an update to your boss and he/she says it’s not right. You ask for guidance and receive none. You are just told to “bring me a rock.” So you attempt to bring the correct rock, and once again get, “no, that’s not the right one. Just bring me a rock.” “What rock do you want?” “I don’t know, but I will know it when I see it.” I see these types of leaders among those in the church who use scripture as a tool for punishment and exclusion – similar to the religious leaders of Jesus’ time who were constantly looking for ways to destroy Jesus’ radical teachings. They continued to criticize Jesus at every turn, because somewhere in their minds they had the idea of the perfect rock – the perfect Messiah. Jesus did not fit their expectations of the Messiah and so they continued to search for another ‘rock.’
Somewhere in the middle is the empowerment of Jesus the risen Christ. Jesus provides us with guidance and direction. Through scripture, experience, tradition, and the use of reason we are able to discern God’s calling for us. We are not left to flounder, trying to guess our next steps. We are not micro-managed by God, yet we are encouraged when we make mistakes, wrapped in love and acceptance. We are empowered by Jesus Christ, the one who conquered death, who walks with us, not micro-managing or ignoring us, but directing and encouraging us every step of the way.
So why are we stuck? Why are we at a point where we can’t seem to move beyond where we are in our Christian faith? Maybe we look a little like this – [play video.] What happens when an escalator breaks down? Does it not just become a set of stairs? Yes, it may be more difficult to get where we are going, but we do not need to feel helplessly stuck where we are.
There are those who will promote a belief that all the world is a stage, and we are merely players (Shakespeare.) It seems that with this belief there is no reason to even attempt to climb the steps of the escalator. We are just coasting along like puppets waiting for the puppeteer to pick up the strings, or in this case waiting for the repair guy to come and fix the escalator so we can continue to coast. Yet we see throughout scripture that humans have been given the gift of free will. We are able to make choices, both good and bad, and there are consequences to our choices, both good and bad. Our calling as followers of Christ is to continue moving forward, even when the escalator turns into a set of stairs. That calling from Jesus remains with us throughout our lives.
Some of us want to look to balance the scales of justice. Perhaps we are of the understanding that once we have done enough good deeds, we can basically back off of further service to God because we have done our time – it’s time for someone else to step up while we sit on the steps. I do believe that we need renewal in our ministries, because life is constantly changing. We cannot do everything like we have always done it and expect different results. Yet I also believe that as we turn the reigns of a particular ministry or vision over to other disciples, our calling from Jesus to help raise up the next generation of believers does not end. Our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ continues throughout our lives.
Perhaps today is a day of renewal for you. As we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we can bask in this moment, gazing into heaven. Yet somewhere there are those who remind us that our journey is not finished. We have been blessed with an incredible gift of God’s abundant grace, and God is looking to each of us to share our stories of what this means to us. What is your story? Why do you gather together with this body of Christ each week? What value do you find in the empowerment you have been given as beloved children of Almighty God?
As we gather today for communion, I would ask that you ponder these questions. We are blessed by God to be a blessing to others. When we take time out of our busy schedules to pray for someone in need, we are blessing others. When we prepare a special treat for someone who is recovering from surgery or illness and simply share a small kindness, we are a blessing to others. When we take time to visit a shut in who wants to hear all about what is going on in this church, we are a blessing to others. When we pause for a bit and read God’s word, we grow in our own faith which in turn is a blessing to others.
Yet when we get caught up in the stresses of everyday, perhaps we are stuck on the escalator. When we try to fit God into our calendars instead of seeking God’s priorities, perhaps we are stuck on the escalator. When we forget that it is not all about us, perhaps we are stuck on the escalator. I encourage you to trust God when the escalator turns into a set of stairs, and keep moving forward. There are greater and greater blessings awaiting us, and it begins with a realization that we are empowered by God to continue the work Jesus embodied for us – loving God with all we are, and loving our neighbors. Amen.