Sunday, May 17, 2015
This past week Thursday was Ascension Day – the Jesus left this earth and went into heaven. And next week Sunday we’ll celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the day when the Holy Spirit was given to the church and the church starting bursting out all over the world. But this Sunday we are living in that limbo time between Ascension Day and Pentecost Day. On this in-between day, Jesus is dead and gone. And his friends are sitting around grieving, and lonely, without a clue as to what will happen next
So are you getting the picture here?
Jesus had died and everybody who loved him had been in shock and grieving and bewildered and lost. And when I say “everybody” that covers a great many people. You remember how popular Jesus had been, all up and down the country. You remember how many crowds of people he had fed – thousands of them. You remember how many people he had cured of diseases and how many women he had honored when most people didn’t, and you remember that strong band of women who supported him financially. You remember how many poor people he had advocated for, and how many people had come from all over the country, flocking to hear him whenever they heard he was in a village or a town. You remember how he took on the Romans and the religious leaders who had abandoned the very people they were supposed to care for. He had people who admired him openly and people who admired him secretly, and some of the ones who admired him secretly were in high positions of leadership. And of course there were his eleven remaining disciples. And they may have been the most in shock and the most lost and bewildered and they may have been the ones who were grieving the most.
Jesus had died and they grieved. Then he came back to life again, and at first they didn’t believe it. But then they did believe it, and they hoped again, and they saw him a few times, and he sort of came and went among them for forty days – a little over a month. And they had a few scattered conversations with him, but he wasn’t really their leader anymore the way he had been, and they were lost. Those men and women had given three years of their lives to follow him. The men, at least and maybe the women also, had given up their homes and their jobs and any sense of security about their future and they had even risked death to follow him all up and down the countryside. And suddenly all that is gone, and they are floundering.
And then one day, Jesus takes them to a hill outside of town. The Mount of Olives. He talks a bit about the Holy Spirit. One minute he’s standing with him on a hill, talking with them, and the next minute they see his body start to rise from the ground and they watch him as he rises higher and higher in to the sky, until all they can see of him is the bottoms of his feet. And as they are watching, he disappears into a cloud and when the cloud passes, there’s no sign of him. And now, we believe, he is in heaven, wherever heaven is, sitting beside God, however that might look - the two of them sitting in heaven with the Holy Spirit also. And we believe that the three of them are hovering over the world in love and power and great pity. Blessing the world and praying for us, and living every second of every day with us. Whether we know it or not.
But if those disciples had any hope that he would lead them on this earth again, and if they had any hope that somehow they would have a future with him, and if they had any hope that he would save them from the Romans, that hope must have died. And they were left standing there on that hill with their questions: what had the last three years been all about? They had given up so much, and risked so much, and for what? What were they going to do when they walked down the hill again?
But. Jesus had also given them a final gift. The power of the Holy Spirit. And he had a given them a job. To tell what they had seen and heard in Jerusalem and the nearby area, for sure, but also all over the whole world, and to make disciples for Jesus in all the countries of the world. They might have thought they would go back to Galilee, where most of them had come from and where their families probably where and where they might have thought they could pick up their lives again somehow. But they went back to Jerusalem and waited as he had told them to. And they sat there in Jerusalem waiting, for fifty more days. The remaining eleven disciples with Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas, and the women like Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Susanna and the other Mary and all the others women who had supported him so faithfully and generously. There they sat reading the Bible together, and praying together, and eating together, and remembering Jesus and reminding each other what he had said and what he had done. Trying to come to some understanding of what it all meant and what they were to do next. For fifty days they sat there like that.
And all of that makes me think of North Kent Presbyterian Church. This is an in between time for North Kent Church as well. We are thanking God today for this building, and for the creative and inspired men and women who planned it and built and paid for it. The strong legacy of the past which we recognize today. And we are standing on tiptoe these days, trying to imagine how God will use this church in the future and what amazing activity for God will happen in this building that you have built for God. It’s a bridge for us as we use it to move into a new future. It’s a beautiful monument to the ways that God has led this church in the past as we look into the future.
The future is unsure. A new pastor is coming but we don’t know when. And we don’t know who that pastor will be. And we can’t really begin to know how things will be here when the new pastor arrives. But may I speak to you clearly? Please do not expect that your new pastor will have all the good ideas and all the energy and please do not expect that your new pastor will grow this church. That won’t happen. She or he cannot do that and you will be so disappointed. You have heard me say again and again that churches grow when the members know who they are and like who they are and offer themselves as a gift to others. Churches grow when members learn the fine art of genuine hospitality and learn how to incorporate new folks and their new ideas into the life of the church. The best gift you can give your next pastor is to spend this time learning genuine hospitality and to give energy and enthusiasm and an eagerness and openness to explore where God is leading this church next.
We’re a little like that group of Jesus’ friends and family who sat and waited and read the scripture and prayed and talked about Jesus while they waited. We have spent the last many weeks in the book of Luke and then in the book of Acts, learning what Luke had to tell us about Jesus and about the church that came after his death. And today we have seen how Jesus went back into heaven and how he gave us a job – to make disciples of all nations, starting nearby in Rockford and extending to the ends of the earth. And we have Jesus’ promise: I will be with you always.
And maybe it will start to look like this: that people who have never really known each other very well will begin to meet in small groups in this church. They will sit around a scripture passage and explore what it means for their lives. They will begin to talk together about their lives with God. And pray for each other. Maybe it will look like this: that younger folks who are already a part of this church and who long to feel accepted and valued will begin to feel welcome in their own church. Maybe it will look like this: that those who have hurt others will ask to be forgiven and those have been hurt will forgive them. Or maybe that forgiveness will happen quietly, deep in the hearts of those who have been hurt.
It’s already starting for us in this in between time - the sitting with each other and reading scripture and praying together and eating together.
Amazing amounts of food has been prepared for our celebration today. And it will be eaten around tables in loving companionship. We are worshipping and singing and praying together and reading scripture together and our choir is helping us do that with such blessing. Plans are being made for kids to continue to be educated in faith this summer and some of them are going to Camp Greenwood this summer. Any number of faithful folks in this church are doing what they are called to do here, sometimes almost invisibly. All of us are busy and working hard in this in-between time.
AND PENTECOST IS COMING