Scripture: Acts 1:1-11
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
“Jesus rose from the dead ….AND he ASCENDED into heaven.”
This particular text – Acts 1 – tells us where we are in the story. In God’s story.
The author of Acts is the same author of the gospel of Luke. Thus, he begins by addressing Theophilus and reminding him of what he wrote about in the gospel of Thomas:
Birth: God breaks into the world in the form of a baby.
Ministry: Jesus teaches, works miracles, draws people to himself, heals, loves.
Death: Jesus is accused, betrayed, and killed as a criminal.
Resurrection Jesus’ is raised from the dead and into new life.
Appearances: In his risen form he appears and eats with his followers, revealing the truth of his resurrection to them.
Ascension: And now, on this day at the ascension, Jesus, in risen form, “is taken up” into heaven. This concludes the visits of the risen Christ. He is now in Heaven…not wandering around, showing up, convincing us that he is indeed alive. He is going back to heaven.
Jesus knows that when people leave, we get anxious. So, he gives us the plan.
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Of course he doesn’t give us a detailed timeline… but he does tell them what to look for. What to expect as we wait.
That’s our verb – to wait. While Jesus is taken up… we are to wait.
Waiting is not my favorite thing to do. And by spending time in airports or traffic or in a line for a cup of coffee… I realize it’s not anyone’s favorite thing to do.
Waiting feels like wasted time.
Time we could spend doing something productive.
Or at least having a few extra minutes of time at home to relax.
So why then does Jesus tell us to WAIT? In Jerusalem, away from our homes, our families, our work.
Why would we wait?
Why does Jesus want us to wait?
Jesus tells us to wait for the Holy Spirit. To wait for something that is about to happen in Jerusalem where we will be baptized. Some sort of baptism, not with water, but with the power of the Holy Spirit. And the entertainment factor alone of that promise is enough to peak our interest. To wait around with these strangers we’ve traveled with for a little longer and see what Jesus is talking about.
I wonder if people went to sleep after the ascension…
Or if they just waited up… looking for something to happen… like some of us do on New Year’s Eve. Or the night an election is announced.
We wait with great anticipation. Ready for things to get started. Maybe some of us fearful of what it will be… or what it will mean..
We’re given a few more verbs while we wait:
– gather together
I like that Jesus tells us to gather together. It makes waiting a little more doable when we know we’re not alone.
This last week I was at a conference with a few friends of mine who are fellow pastors. I was the one with the rental car and so I shuttled people around from one event to the next.
My colleagues learned pretty quickly that I don’t like to wait.
At one point we had finished one seminar and had planned to meet at the car at 2:30 to travel to the next place together. One of my friend’s sessions ran late and by 2:38 I was getting antsy, starting the car and ready to start circling the block.
My buddy was in the passenger seat and he just starting laughing. “You really are impatient! It’s 2:38. Chill!”
He said, “If you start circling in this traffic, what good will it do? She’ll come here looking for you and you won’t be here. You’ll be putting yourself in more traffic for no reason.”
“Be patient. Wait a little longer. It’s better this way.”
Of course he was right. A few minutes later, she hopped in the car apologetically and we were on our way.
It can really help to have a friend beside you reminding you of the plan. Reminding you that your job right now is to wait. That’s your verb. That’s all you need to do, Jesus says. Wait and watch for what is next.
* * *
Though the early followers got a plan… they were definitely confused by it.
They couldn’t understanding WHY they couldn’t go with him. Why is Jesus being “taken up” alone? Shouldn’t we, adopted as God’s children through him, get to go, too?
They also couldn’t understand WHY he was leaving when the kingdom of Israel STILL has not been restored?
Wasn’t that why we needed a Messiah? To restore the kingdom of Israel?
To reestablish peace and justice and love as the values of our society instead of empire?
And as far as we can see, that has not happened. The world is still a mess. The empire still has power. Violence and execution are still daily news.
WHEN will the Kingdom of Israel be restored?
Why Are you being taken from us? When God’s work is clearly not finished?
There’s a song in the musical Godspell that is really moving. Jesus has told the disciples the plan. He is going to die and be raised and this one follower begins to sing this song:
“Where are you going?
Where are you going?
Can you take me with you?
For my hand is cold and needs warmth.
Where are you going?”
The emotions of the song open up for us the depth of this moment. The confusion, the sadness, the fear and realized pain of abandonment.
Jesus tries so hard to tell us the plan, to help us be patient in our waiting and trusting with our future. He tries so many times to tell us the whole story…and we still are stuck with the questions that affect us –
Where are you going?
Can we go with you?
Is it time yet?
The question of where has always piqued interest for people inside and outside of the church.
Where exactly is Jesus going? Where is God “taking him up to?”
My question for us to consider today is this one: What is heaven? Where do you think Jesus ascended to?
- – A place with no evil or heartbreak or violence. A place of ultimate peace.
- – Where my scars on earth will be gone
- – Customized for each person’s personality. Extroverts get to be at a party with all their friends. Introverts get alone time.
- – I like the way it’s portrayed in a movie where we all get a lawyer and go before a judge to see if our overall life was faithful. Specifically to replay parts of our life where we acted out of trust and courage and the parts where we acted out of fear.
This idea that heaven is above us, earth is here and hell is below us was shattered in the World Wars with the darkness of the Holocaust.
All of a sudden during the war, we didn’t need the images of lakes of fire in our scriptures to imagine Hell and use fear to gain salvation.
Now, we just turn on the daily news. Our minds filled with images of destruction. Hell is here.
So, what does that mean for Heaven? She claims that we can get glimpses of Heaven here as well. Glimpses of the kingdom being revealed… being made new.
As we focus on our verbs:
We may catch glimpses of the kingdom being renewed or of God’s very self with us through the Holy Spirit.
* * *
We could spend all day pondering this question… Where is heaven?
But we must be careful not to miss the good news.
The GOOD NEWS is that “taken up into heaven” means that Jesus was received by God. Reunited with God.
We, like the disciples, might be sad or confused because we’ve gotten used to God being here. With us. God Emmanuel.
But, Jesus doesn’t really belong here… in human form on Earth. He belongs with God, our Creator, his “Abba.” We just got to borrow Jesus for a short time so that we ourselves could be redeemed.
It is GOOD NEWS that Jesus is taken up into heaven.
Because Jesus is God. Comes from God. Must return to God.
And it’s good news that Jesus isn’t done with us yet. There’s a plan.
We wait and watch and draw together because God is not done with us or redeeming the whole world yet. We must wait and watch for what is next.
The GOOD NEWS is that we don’t have to think of the earthly realm and the heavenly realm as completely separate non-permeable boundaries.
Jesus breaks those boundaries open. The first to travel from God (heaven) to us (earth) back to God. And he paves the way for us… to be forever connected and reunited with God. To trace glimpses of heaven among the glimpses of hell.
* * *
At the end of our story today, the two men (maybe angels, maybe bystanders) say, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?”
…. Don’t you know Jesus can cross the barrier? Don’t you know this same Jesus going to heaven will come back?
Since the ascension and all Jesus has done for us, we do not have to fear what is next. We don’t have to get anxious or remain sad or confused.
For we know that Jesus is not yet done with us.
We know that Jesus is preparing our place with him.
We know that Jesus has already crossed our perceived barriers between heaven, earth and hell and invites us to do the same…
Next week is Pentecost – the birthday of the Christian church… when we remember that the Holy Spirit does come, just as Jesus said, and the Holy Spirit fills the followers with the breath of God. Baptizing them with fire to be Christ’s witnesses and live out the story – God’s story – in this world.
But this week….we WAIT.
we DRAW TOGETHER.
and we WITNESS what God is about to do.
Because Jesus has told us the plan.
And for this, we give thanks.