Worship services are live on Facebook every Sunday at 10 AM PDT.
More Voices 122 “This Is the Day”
Voices United 352 “I Danced in the Morning”
Voices United 959 “The Lord’s Prayer”
Voices United 327 “All Praise to Thee”
“Go Now in Peace, Never Be Afraid” (Don Besig/Nancy Price)
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Gracious and loving God,
we stand staring up at heaven,
in expectation and hope,
that when we look down, everything will have suddenly changed,
but you teach us instead to look at the world as it is,
in need of healing.
Help us to be disciples and apostles,
those who learn and those who are sent out,
to continue to ministry of Jesus,
loving and serving others,
healing and breaking bread with those in need,
so that all may know that God is with us still,
working through your people.
In the name of Jesus, Crucified and Risen,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
The angel asks them, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”
It seems like there is nothing to do anymore, or maybe there is too much to do. The disciples had a purpose, a mission, a routine, and most importantly, a leader who would tell them what to do. They knew what they were supposed to do. They were to follow Jesus, learn from him, listen to what he has to say. They were disciples, students.
And suddenly, they’re not disciples anymore, because the teacher has gone up to heaven. They’re no longer the twelve Disciples, they’re the twelve Apostles (or at least they will be once they hold a meeting and select a guy named Matthias to replace Judas). The book of Acts is authored by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke and, between the two books, the writer starts to call the twelve who followed Jesus something different; in the gospel of Luke, the twelve are called μαθηται, or “disciples,” “students,” but in Acts, they are called αποστολοι, “Apostles,” “those who are sent (i.e. with a mission).”
They are no longer students; they’re on their own.
They ask Jesus before he leaves, “Is now when you will restore the kingdom of Israel? Are we going to stop being wandering disciples and start being soldiers? Will we start an insurrection, overthrow the Romans?” They’re willing to throw out everything they have been taught and believed about pacifism, inclusivity, the expansion of the covenant, if someone—Jesus—would just tell them what to do.
But they don’t get that. Jesus instead tells them, “You will be my witnesses.” You will carry on my ministry. You, the beginning of the church, will be me in the world.
And that’s a tall order. How does one even start to be Jesus? How does one try to do all the things he did? Not just the practical—the teaching, the healing, the serving—but also the spiritual; how does one save like Jesus saves?
So on one hand it seems like they have nothing to do. Their only source of direction has gone up and left them without so much as a 5-year strategic plan. On the other hand, they have too much to do. They have to do all the things Jesus did, and more. They have to establish a church, they have to receive the Holy Spirit, they have to go out healing and preaching and loving and serving, and not just in the small little corner of the world where Jesus walked, but everywhere. There’s only eleven of them (again, twelve once they recruit Matthias).
Does it seem like there’s too much for us to do, while at the same time there’s nothing for us to do?
I’m sure a lot of us have been on social media more often than usual, and social media over the course of the last few months has done that thing where everybody is posting their best lives and we see that and compare ourselves unfavourably. “Look at my quarantine project,” says someone posting photos of a remodelled house, a blooming garden, a refurbished car; while we look around at all the half-started projects, or the junk piling up. “Here’s a family singing a funny song about Corona,” while we think about the fights we’re having because of being forced to share close quarters more than we usually would.
Of course, it’s well known that posting on social media is all about pretending that our lives are perfect and going well. Keep that in mind when comparing yourself unfavourably to others.
And we think of all the things that we can’t do. “Look at how perfect my life is,” posts on social media used to be photos of the meal at a fancy restaurant or pictures of you and your friends or family smiling while doing some sort of activity together. What we had envisioned of the perfect life—which always seemed to involve some kind of consumption of a product or service—isn’t possible right now.
And more than that, it isn’t just these things that we might dismiss as trivial. A lot of community services are reduced, including this church’s big outreach program, so we can’t volunteer the way we used to. We see people creatively coming up with new ways to reach people, churches livestreaming fantastic services, food delivery, messages of hope on windows—and that can give us hope, but it can also make us feel like we aren’t doing enough. We used to know how to be good Christians, how to love and serve others. Now we are staring up to heaven, waiting for a sign from God, some sort of direction.
“Is now the time,” we ask somebody—the government, Dr. Henry, each other—“to get back to normal?” When we can go out, go sit in coffee shops, go to the gym, hang out with friends? Is now the time to restore the kingdom of consumer capitalism that we were so used to? Is now the time we can go back to church, when we can sing and pray together and embrace each other? And if not now, then when?
And we stare at the news reports, at Dr. Henry’s daily briefings, at the calendars for the vacations we had planned, like the Apostles stared up to heaven, just waiting for someone to give us an answer.
Like the Apostles, we need to figure out a new normal. We want to go back to the old normal, but we can’t do that. There were too many people left behind by the old normal. Jesus opened the covenant to those who were called sinners, outcasts; he invited the lowest and least to the head of the table; he overturned the system of rules and regulations just as he overturned the tables of those who were exploiting that system at the cost of others. He said, “This is the cup of a new covenant, poured out not for few, but for many.” Yet the Apostles ask, “Is now when you will restore the kingdom?” Can we just go back to the old ways?
And not just to the pre-Covid days. Can we go back to when churches were full? Can we go back to when times were simpler? Can we go back to before Trump? Can we go back to before the 2008 market crash? Can we go back to before we were hearing about police brutality in the states and civil unrest? Before pipeline protests? Before everything got “too political”?
No, says Jesus. We can’t go back because too many people were left behind. Far too many people were excluded from the church’s community when it was full; far too many people were left behind in the old economic systems; far too many people’s voices were unheard when certain events were never reported in the news. If we want things to ever “settle down,” we are going to need to be apostles of God; we are going to have to demand justice.
We can’t go back because we have seen who is essential in our society and we have seen how they do not have enough; we have seen how we focused too much on what we consume and not enough on our neighbour. We can’t go back, because it will put too many vulnerable people at risk to sit next to each other in church and to sing our hearts out. We can’t go back, any more than the Apostles can rewind the crucifixion and the resurrection. God is working in our world, and she is stirring shit up whether we like it or not.
We can’t let ourselves go back to the old normal, not if we truly want to be Apostles. God is always about opening up, allowing more people in, and that will change things irrevocably.
So here we are, staring up at the sky, and an angel asks us, “Why do you stand, staring up to heaven?” It seems like we have nothing to do, and too much to do. It’s like the worst thing a writer can face: a totally blank page with nothing on it. We can do anything, so what do we do?
In Acts, as in Luke, as in Matthew, as in John; in nearly all the tellings of the end of this story, Jesus promises the disciples one thing: “I will be with you.” He promises the presence of the Holy Spirit of God, that they are not alone. That they are not directionless, they have their faith to guide them. “I am with you always, to the end of the age,” he says in Matthew. “I am leaving you an Advocate,” he says in John. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” he tells us here in Acts.
You are not alone; whatever we have to do, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever we have to do to figure out this new normal, we are not alone. God is with us. Thanks be to God.