Sermon for Sunday May 20th, 2012
"It's Time To Stop Staring at the Clouds" by Kenneth Sauer
“It’s Time to Stop Staring at the Clouds”
The two men in white robes asked the disciples kind of a strange question, did they not: “why are you standing here looking toward heaven?”
But, if you saw Jesus rising into the clouds, wouldn’t you look up?
Imagine walking down the street, minding your own business, when you suddenly come across a crowd of folks who are all staring up at the sky.
As you follow the eyes of the crowd you see, above you, a massive cloud with a pair of feet sticking out just below the bottom edge of the cloud.
This would be much too strange of a sight to just continue on your way.
You would have to stop and stare at the sky with the rest of the folks.
And all around you, the people would start to mumble.
“There must be some logical explanation for this; maybe the guy is hanging from a hot air balloon, or perhaps he’s hand gliding.”
Whatever is causing this, you just wouldn’t be able to stop looking as you stood transfixed with the others, wondering what on earth is going on!!!!
Throughout the centuries artists have painted the Ascension in an almost comical manner, with only Jesus’ feet sticking out from a cloud.
And in all the paintings, the disciples are looking up.
So, “Why do you stand looking up?” does kind of seem like an absurd question.
Who wouldn’t be looking up?
And if Jesus is going to be coming back again from heaven, looking up seems to be the best thing to be doing.
I mean, why look at the earth, where so many things have turned so bad?
The men in white robes didn’t give an answer to this, but Jesus did.
After His Resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with His disciples.
And after those 40 days the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”
Jesus answered, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather…”
Now that word “rather” is a mighty important word!
“Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
And these places include where we are right this minute!!!
Right here in East Ridge, Tennessee…
…this place is included in Jesus’ commission.
We are to be God’s witnesses here!!!
The promise of the Holy Spirit is a promise for this community and a promise for this time and a promise for this Church!!!
That word “rather” brings us back down to earth again, does it not?
Rather than staring up at the clouds, you’ve got work to do!!!
Jesus will come back, but when that will happen…?...
…you let God worry about that.
It’s hard to believe it was just a year ago that the head of The Family Radio Broadcasting Network—Harold Camping--predicted, through 2,000 billboards worldwide, that on May 21, 2011 the righteous, which totaled 3 percent of humanity, was to be whisked away to heaven, leaving the rest of us to weather five months of extreme natural disasters until October 21, 2011, whereupon God was to destroy the entire universe and everyone in it.
Camping claimed to have “infallible, absolute proof” that this was gonna happen, and that there was no point in making plans for Memorial Day Weekend.
Sadly, quite a number of people bought into it, selling their possessions and paying big money for billboards.
Of course, predicting exactly when Christ will return is nothing new.
For example, Preacher Samuel S. Snow predicted Jesus would return on October 22, 1844.
Thousands of people gave away all their possessions, only to be surprised when the world did not end.
That day came to be known as “The Great Disappointment.”
In 1806 news of Christ’s return came by means of a hen in Leeds, England who had been laying eggs that bore the message “Christ is coming.”
Thus, she was named The Prophet Hen of Leeds.
Apparently, great numbers of people came to visit the spot where this hen was laying these eggs.
And many people suddenly became extremely religious as they prayed fervently and repented of their evil ways.
But, as it is written, “some gentlemen, hearing of the matter, went one fine morning, and caught the hen in the act of laying one of her miraculous eggs.
Close by was a young lad inscribing the words on the egg with corrosive ink.”
Moving forward in history, Dorothy Martin, a Chicago housewife, predicted the end would come December 21, 1954.
In his 1996 book: The Planet Earth 2000 A.D. Hal Lindsey, who has been making big money predicting the end of the world since his 1970 best-selling book: The Late, Great Planet Earth, wrote that Christians should not make any plans after the year 2,000.
And Pat Robertson, said on a broadcast of The 700 Club “I guarantee you by October or November of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world.”
Robertson later acknowledged, “I have a relatively good track record,” but, “sometimes I miss.”
Jesus said, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority.
…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
In a legal sense, a witness is a person who, because of some experience or something they have seen, are in a unique position to tell the truth about some important matter.
And Jesus commissions His disciples to witness to God’s mighty acts in history, to proclaim Christ’s Good News in an empire that has Crucified Good News.
They’ve been called into a proverbial courtroom to witness about Jesus Christ amid the competing testimonies—testimonies that promise peace through violence, fulfillment through wealth, and power through exploitation!!!
And they aren’t to do this on their own; they are only to do this through the power and the prompting of the Advocate or the Holy Spirit living inside them.
Luke’s Gospel makes it clear that the Holy Spirit’s work is made manifest in the life of Jesus Christ.
Jesus gave an outline of the Holy Spirit’s work in Luke Chapter 4 when Jesus read from the scroll: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
At the end of Luke’s Gospel and at the beginning of Acts, Jesus promises that same Spirit of God to come upon us!!!
Jesus is no longer physically here to heal the sick and to feed the hungry.
The mission of Jesus now falls on the disciples.
Jesus tells His disciples, immediately before He is “lifted up”, that it is their job to take His message global—“to the end of the earth.”
No wonder they stood there gazing up toward heaven!
And this is the mission of the Church, of which each of us is a part.
Hearing this can be staggering.
Bearing witness to Christ in a world that suffers is overwhelming.
How can our community, let alone the world ever be free from poverty and hunger?
“While [Jesus] was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them.
They said, ‘Galileans, why are you standing here looking toward heaven?”
Perhaps these messengers were saying to the disciples that it is time to stop gawking and time to get going into the world!!!
A prayer that is attributed to Teresa of Avila goes like this:
“God of love, help us to remember
that Christ has no body now on earth
but ours, no hands but ours, no feet
Ours are the eyes to see the needs of
Ours are the hands with which to
bless everyone now.
Ours are the feet with which [Jesus] is
to go about doing good.”
We are to be the hands, the feet, the eyes, and the voice of Christ as we reach out to a lost, broken and dying world.
There is no bigger job to be done; there is no more important job in all the world, and there is no bigger privilege to which we can be called!!!
So when Jesus tells us not to worry about when He will return, He is telling us to live in the moment—not to be overly concerned with the “not yet.”
And what a relief that is!!!
Not only has God, through God’s Spirit “come upon us” to enable us to fulfill God’s call on our lives, but we are also to leave the worries, the timing, and all the other stuff up to God.
Can we trust God that much?
You know, when we embody the Good News of God’s love in our own lives, we can’t help but share the message.
Think of the most exciting news you’ve ever had to share with others.
Perhaps it was your engagement to the man or woman you love.
Maybe the big story was the birth of your first child or grandchild.
We all know that when wonderful things happen in our lives, we immediately pick up the phone and share the news with the people we love the most.
And, in our elation, we are also excited to share the news with coworkers and strangers, too!!!
And this is what Jesus calls us to do, with the news of God’s love for all humankind!!!
It would be a strange sight to see a man ascending toward the heavens.
And it can be intimidating to think about telling a scarred and unbelieving world about the love, mercy and salvation of God which defies even the greatest powers.
“Rather” though, than standing around, staring at some feet disappearing into a cloud and wondering what it all means and how on earth we are going to share this message isn’t what we are called to do.
Instead, we are to go from this place with joy; worshipping, praising, and preaching good news to the poor, release for the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, and liberation to the oppressed!!!
We are to do this here in East Ridge, in North Georgia, in all of the United States and to the end of the earth.
May it be so.