Rose Park Sunday School (Adults and Children) at 8:45 a.m. / Worship at 9:45 a.m.

Madison Sunday School (Adults and Children) 10:15 a.m. / Worship at 11:15 a.m.

Look Out

Based on Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11, Ephesians 1:15-23

          There you are…sitting in the stands at a sporting event.  The day is beautiful, you have good seats, you are settled maybe in with your hotdog and beer.  The experience could not be any better.  However, the game kind of drags along and you find yourself about halfway through paying attention to the kids around you, the antics of the folks who have had way more than one beer, the scoreboard, your phone…when all of a sudden someone yells “look out!”.  You quickly return your attention to what is happening around you and hopefully avoid a painful collision with an object from the field.  The incident passes, but you find your heart is racing, you remain hyper-vigilant, and you remind yourself that the action on the field of play requires your full attention in order to remain safe – looking out toward the game is also the decent thing to do to honor the players and their effort.

          Paying attention by looking out and around us is also important for our protection in other ways.  It used to be that folks would hire themselves out to operate lighthouses along our coasts.  These dedicated people would make sure the lights stayed on and would work to report any vessels that had run aground.  Today there are still people who hire themselves out to staff fire lookout towers around the country.  What could be more important in a time of climate change than to have dedicated people who show up and look out over their part of the land, their witness providing an early warning of fires.  We know the damage that is done when we don’t have enough dedicated people on look out.

          Our scriptures today speak to us about looking out into our world and witnessing to the transformative power of God.  The writer of the letter to the Ephesians writes of the “eyes of your heart enlightened” that we might look out onto the world with the hope of God that fills us.  The writer of Luke/Acts details the final words of the Risen Christ to the Apostles before the Ascension.  The Christ gives the final mandates to look outside their small group so as to witness to what they have seen to all the world.  Before we go farther, let us go to God in thanksgiving that we have the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us as we look out upon our world…

          The writer of the letter to the believers in Ephesus opens with blessings and a prayer.  The prayer portion is what is in our reading for this Ascension Sunday.  The prayer is for the Ascended Christ to continue to give us the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and revelation so that we might grow in our relationship with God.  As God raised Jesus from the dead, so God has continued to raise up the Church in the world – the very body of the Christ which is active in every age, and which works with God’s Almighty power to transform the world.

          The writer of Luke/Acts gives two slightly different accounts of the Ascension of the Risen Christ.  The Risen Christ tells the Disciples to stay in Jerusalem and await the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The minds of the disciples were then opened to all the teachings of the scriptures, and they were instructed to go out from Jerusalem to all the world, witnessing to all they had seen and proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus.  When they lingered too long looking up to the sky, angels came and reminded them to look out into the world and get to work.         

          This is what the Church of the Risen and Ascended Christ – “which is his body” is supposed to be doing.  We’re not supposed to be looking up to the sky wondering when the Christ is going to return – we’re supposed to be on the look out for how God is moving in our world.  Theologian and Bible scholar, Walter Brueggemann, writes the following about our Luke/Acts texts today, noting:  “…In both Luke 24:48-49 and in Acts 1:4 and 8, I notice three moves that pertain to the church in every time and place.  First, the church is instructed to wait (Acts 1:4); in Luke 24:40, the command is to ‘stay here.’ In both uses, the church is to pause and to linger, in order to be led by the promise of the Father. The church is not ‘to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority’  (Acts 1:7). The church is not to take its own initiative or to imagine it is on its own…Second, the purpose of the wait is in order to receive the gift of power. In Luke: ‘clothed with power from on high’ (24:49). In Acts: ‘you will receive power’ (1:8). In both cases the propulsion of the church is not under its own steam. . . it is a gift!  Third, the purpose of divine empowerment that is given in a season of waiting is in order to be witnesses. The Acts narrative outlines the scope of the field for testimony: ‘in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ The narrative in Luke provides the substance of the testimony; it concerns crucifixion and resurrection, repentance and forgiveness. (24:46-47). The testimony concerns the wonder wrought by God in Jesus (crucifixion and resurrection) and the effect of that wonder on the world (forgiveness)….”

          Note that the Risen Christ did not tell his Disciples or us to sit around inside buildings looking up expectantly to the sky so that we can be the first ones to see the Christ coming again.  Jesus told them that in the power of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of scripture, they were to go out into the world looking for folks to whom they could witness about the wonders that God had done, is doing and will continue to do!

          Diana Butler Bass, in her book “Freeing Jesus” writes, “…Millions of Americans have left church behind, probably many more have left emotionally, and countless others are wondering if they should. One of the most consistent things I hear from those who have left, those doubting their faith, and those just hanging on is that church or Christianity has failed them, wounded them, betrayed them, or maybe just bored them – and they do not want to have much to do with it any longer…[Over the course of the pandemic] millions have discovered that [in these many months], Jesus was not confined to a building. Jesus was around our tables at home, with us on walks and hikes, present in music, art, and books, and visible in faces via ZOOM. Jesus was with us when we felt we could do no more, overwhelmed by work and online school. Jesus was with us as we prayed with the sick in hospital over cell phones. Jesus did not leave us to suffer alone. COVID-19 forced Jesus out of the Church [cathedral] into the world, reminding Christians that church is not a building. Rather, church is wherever two or three are gathered – even if the ‘two’ is only you and your cat – and where Jesus is present in bread that regular people bake, bless, and break at family tables and homemade altars…Jesus is with us. Here.

          …Many (who have walked away) will not go back to church, mostly because they left some time ago. They did not need help to find Jesus in their lives and in the world. They were already discovering what it meant to follow Jesus beyond the church. Perhaps the pandemic hastened the process, caused them to ask new questions, or renewed their courage on the journey.  But many others will return. And, as before, people will sit close, hug and pass the peace, and share bread and wine…Whatever happens, however, I hope none of us will ever forget the Jesus we have met in our own lives, who has been with us in fear and confusion and loss, in forced isolation and the surprising moments of joy, and through the ministrations of our shared human priesthood. It all matters. All of it….”

          The fear-based rhetoric of the pandemic has caused us to look in and to barricade ourselves in our own tiny worlds – inside our own echo chambers.  We found ourselves paralyzed and looking up for help, all the time forgetting that we have a job to do during our time on earth.  The Risen Christ was never contained inside a church building – and as Butler Bass has noted, many people have now discovered this fact.  The future of the church of Jesus the Christ is not here in these buildings, where fewer and fewer gather each week.  The future of the Church is out in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  The future of the Body of Christ will be discovered when we look out into the world to see what God is doing and then to get to work as God’s witnesses wherever God is found.  Look out God, here we come!  Amen and amen!