Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11
Last night I had the pleasure of attending my Uncles farewell celebration at his church. As most of you know, he is leaving Boonville after 20 years there to become a District Superintendent. It was really a joy and honor to hear him praised and honored – obviously, I am biased, but I find him to be inspiring as a pastor, uncle, and colleague. When all was said and done, plaques presented, presents given and received, speeches made, my uncle was invited to say a few words. And in his comments, and in his closing prayer, what he said was this: this church has been a place where my dreams and God's dreams for me have come true because of how you helped that to happen. So please make sure that you also partner with the new pastor to help make his dream and God's dreams come true in the future, in the years ahead as well. Because if this twenty year ministry has been all about me, I’ve been doing something very wrong. This ministry is about building up the kingdom of God. Because I know that for my uncle, the thing that would make him feel the worst would be to hear that Boonville United Methodist just couldn’t continue without him. The worst thing would be watching what he worked so hard to build fall apart. To know that the lessons he tried to teach hadn’t really sunk in after all, that the gifts he shared and cultivated had been in vain.
Today is Ascension Sunday, and it is a weird in-between sort of day before Pentecost that we don’t spend much time thinking about. It is the day that we remember that Jesus, forty days after the Easter Resurrection, returned to heaven to be with God. That is what the Ascension is. But we need to know the why or it doesn’t much matter. Why is the Ascension important for us to think about? In some ways, actually, I think this time period – the time immediately following Jesus’ ascension, is actually the most critical time for the disciples, for Jesus, for the church, for the mission of the pervasive kingdom of God. Because I can imagine that Jesus, like my Uncle Bill, had to wonder a little bit: how exactly will things unfold after I leave. Jesus would be with the disciples always – but not in the flesh – not to walk with for miles between villages, not to quickly consult with. Jesus had been with the disciples for three years – and they were not getting another Jesus. There is only the one! Yes, they were promised a Comforter, an Advocate to help. But they were in effect stepping into Jesus’ shoes themselves! The students were becoming the preachers and teachers and spreaders of good news now. They had been called, equipped, sent out. But now it was up to them. They could return to their old lives, convinced they couldn’t do anything without Jesus physically present. Or they could believe that Jesus had provided the gifts they needed to be Christ’s presence in the world. What would they do?
In some ways, we live our whole journey of discipleship in this moment of transition, for I think God is forever asking us the question, watching to see: what will we do? Because although we, like the Twelve, probably feel like we are in some respects always disciples, students, learning more about God, we, like the Twelve, also have, Jesus says, everything we need to change the world, make our dreams and God's dreams come true in us, through us, in our community. What will we do? What will we do?
Next Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the day the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, wiping away excuses, giving them boldness, and setting off the birth of what we call the church. We know what the first disciples did, eventually, with God's help. They became the church. They shared about the kingdom and God's grace. They used their gifts. What will we do? I would like you to think about that this week – what will you do? What are you doing? What will we do in this place, this community?
Today, to help us begin to think more deeply about these questions, I need your help. I want you to take your (index card), and write down three things you are good at. Three. It can be anything. Knitting, football, computers, shopping for deals, whatever. Three things. Three. You don’t need to write your name. Just three things. And if you can’t think of three, even though you are most definitely, I am telling you, good at three things, then at least write three things you like doing. Reading. Watching TV. Riding your bike. But give me three things on your card. I am asking Della to play music for three minutes while you write things down, and pass your cards to the ushers. Please, I really encourage you – just humor me, and fill out your cards! Right now.
By now, you are probably asking: what is Pastor Beth going to do? Next week, Pentecost Sunday, birthday of the church, I hope you will come to worship and find out!
Today is Ascension Sunday. Jesus is with God. God is with us. And we have a question to answer, and all creation is waiting with bated breath for our response: what will we do?