June 1 – Ascension Sunday/Youth Sunday
Stuck on the Steps
Acts 1:6-14, Ephesians 4:1-8, 11-16
There is movie that came out not too long ago that shows a football star who, toward the end of the movie, makes a daring catch in the end zone, only to be knocked unconscious. The trainers and assistants come rushing out onto the field and work to revive the star player. When he starts to come around, the player notices he is still holding the football. When the trainers try to get him to stand up, he says, “Wait, let me just enjoy this for a moment.” Of course he does get up; he is not hurt and literally basks in the moment of glory.
It seems this is what the disciples wanted to do in today’s scripture – they wanted to simply remain there, gazing into heaven. 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. It just doesn’t seem as special as that peak moment of joy. But then we do move on, 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.
The disciples were given instructions to stay together in Jerusalem because there is 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. During Jesus’ time on earth, he pretty much took the lead and maintained central focus during his ministry. He did commission the disciples at times to go out and witness, heal the sick, and drive out demons, yet Jesus still remained as the predominant leader. All the time Jesus was with them, he was grooming them for leadership. Jesus knew his time on earth was limited and in order for the message of God’s love to continue to thrive, Jesus had to empower leaders to take over the mission on earth. Jesus will always remain as our central focus – let me make that clear. Jesus remains the catalyst. In any scientific/chemical reaction, there are the elements needed to make the reaction occur, than there is the spark or catalyst that initiates some event that drives the reaction. Jesus called the disciples to follow him and learn from his teachings serving as the catalyst. He knew he needed to provide them with the tools they would require in order to instill the passion needed to witness to the ends of the earth.
It is interesting to me that these ‘elements’ known as the disciples were more focused on dwelling in the moment than in continuing their mission. I am reminded of a children’s time that was held at my husband’s home church. Similar to how it is done here the children would come forward for a time with the pastor and included among them was a little two year old boy named Jake. Once children’s time was over, everyone began to return to their seats, the pastor returned to the pulpit, but Jake was somehow stuck on the steps. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He didn’t realize that it was time to move on to the next event. He was stuck until someone came back and served as his guide.
I cannot imagine the sight of seeing Jesus ascend into heaven in the clouds. I think I would want to stand there gazing into the sky as well, stuck on the steps so to speak – maybe a bit in disbelief, maybe just in shear awe of what they had witnessed. The scriptures note that by this time the disciples’ minds were opened and they fully understood the events of Jesus’ ministry, his passion, death, and resurrection. They finally understood that he was truly the son of God living among them. But to see first-hand how Jesus was transformed into his heavenly being and lifted into the heavens to return home could not have been anything less than awesome. It is understandable I think that they would want to bask in the moment. How often does something like that occur in one’s lifetime! Think of the special times in your lives – those truly pinnacle experiences of graduation from one grade to the next, great birthday celebrations, or special anniversaries or family reunions. You think at that moment, ‘life doesn’t get any better than this!’ And yet it seems something down the road is just as special or even more so.
As we come up on our first year together here at Mayo UMC, I find myself wanting to bask in the special moments we have had here. In less than a year we’ve baptized four babies, held an awesome pet fair, rekindled our connection with the Chapel in the Woods, welcomed three new families into our church family, celebrated the birth of Christ, held multiple dinners, helped some folks find Financial Peace, and launched into a year-long program of health through ‘Finding Your Balance. Today is one of those special celebration days as we honor our young people as part of Youth Sunday. Each event seems to create a sense of awe as we realize all that we can do and all that we have done as a dedicated church of Christ’s followers.
I must point out that if we had simply stopped our wonder and striving at that first special event, we would not be in the position we are now, continuing to seek ways to connect with our community and share God’s awesome love. Yet we could easily find ourselves trapped in nostalgia as we want to bask in each moment of glory.
This is Ascension Sunday as we remember and reflect on Jesus’ ascension back to heaven and what that means for us as empowered leaders of Christ’s church. Yet we see that as much as we want to pause and remember and reflect on the victories of the past, we must keep looking forward to ‘what’s next?’ That question should always be in front of us – what’s next? Where do we go from here?
As a congregation of Christ’s believers here at Mayo UMC, what is next for us? Do we still want to stand gazing into heaven? Are we stuck on the steps afraid to make a move in any direction? It feels like we have accomplished a lot in less than a year together. I believe God wants us to continually pray for discernment in order to stay within God’s will for us. Can you look at the faces of our young people and be rejuvenated and reinvigorated with a sense of purpose? How are we passing on our joy of Christ’s love for us as we share this love with others? Our community is seeing that we are an active and involved congregation. We are a part of our Jerusalem. We will continue to connect with our neighbors through community events, mission opportunities and fun activities.
We can help folks realize that church can be fun – who knew? Real joy comes from God, even in the midst of difficult times. Community brings fellowship that many so desperately need in this area. God’s joy is infectious. It is like hearty laughter that catches on and may even catch you by surprise. Even if you are at a place where you can’t seem to find joy, God can build a bridge of love that can reach the dark recesses of your grief and despair and replace it with comfort and peace. As members of Christ’s holy church in this community we are charged to go beyond our walls and witness the love of God to our neighbors in our Jerusalem of Mayo and beyond, into Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
I am sure the disciples may have felt a little lost at watching Jesus leave them and return to heaven. Yet within their confusion they are visited by 2 angels that remind them that Jesus will return and there is a promise of an advocate through the Holy Spirit to help them until that time. We are not alone. God is always with us even in what can appear to be our darkest hour. We need to continue to move forward as a congregation and continually discern God’s will for us.
The young people have spent some time creating these rainbow crosses as a special gift for everyone today. We’ve talked a lot about Christian unity and what it means to celebrate unity in diversity. A rainbow is an excellent representation of this as we can see each color portrayed while appreciating the rainbow as a whole. Unity in diversity plays a major role for us as followers of Christ seeking to take the next faithful step. Pray for this congregation – pray for its leaders and decision-makers that we will continue to seek God’s will to help meet the needs of our community. Hold our young people and their families in your prayers and in your hearts. Reach out to our single parents who may be struggling and share God’s love through real, tangible ways. Visit the elderly and shut-in this week and remind them of their importance as part of this rainbow. Thanks be to God for the blessings God has given us here at Mayo. Amen.