“You can’t stay here!” said the angels to the disciples as they stared up into the sky. “You can’t stay here and wait for Jesus. You have work to do after you receive the Spirit.” The disciples did not want to hear this as they stared in awe, amazement, wonder, and fear at the place in the sky where they had last seen the Risen Christ. I do not doubt for a second that Peter was ready to build an altar, pitch a tent, and wait for Jesus to come back. He had a pretty good track record of wanting to do such things. Who could blame him for such desires?
Imagine being in Peter’s place. Filled with a sense of the Holy, knowing something sacred just happened, why not hunker down and worship until the Holy shows up again? After the Transfiguration, Jesus was very clear that staying on the mountain top wasn’t a good idea because there was so much to be done in other places with other people. So, too, after Mary discovers the empty tomb, she is told that Jesus was not there and she should look for him among the living. She quite likely wanted to sit down and wait until Jesus showed up again or until someone could explain what happened. Why would Ascension be any different?
The angels didn’t have to wait to hear the disciples’ thoughts. They knew. They knew the very human desire to hunker down, hold on, and wait for God to show up again. That just isn’t the way it works. Why haven’t we figured this out?
We can say that the Gospels tell us how to be disciples. They tell the stories of Jesus’ teachings and interactions with the world and make clear that we, as followers, are to love one another. We are to love with a love so fierce that it leads to a kind of holy oneness. As a consequence, there’s no stopping and staying in the holy moments, the holy places. We are to fuel up for the journey ahead because there is work to be done with other people in other places. This is how it is with faith.
Now if we can take the leap and say that The Book of Acts is a continuation of the story that is more about being church than being individual disciples, we would do well to pay heed to the message. There is no hunkering down. There is no staying in one place. There is no staring up into the sky while waiting for Jesus to show up. Best get going because once the Spirit shows up there’s going to be a ton of work to be done.
Church, we haven’t done a very good job of paying attention to the angels who have told us, “You can’t stay here.” We’ve done a really good job of hunkering down. We’ve created rituals, traditions, polity, and buildings all in the name of worshiping God. This isn’t bad in and of itself. However, we’ve forgotten about the journey that will lead to other people in other places that need us to be church, to be Christ in the broken, wounded, suffering places. We have become far too comfortable sitting in our pews, saying our prayers, and waiting for God to change the world.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples heard what the angels had to stay. They heard the “you can’t stay here” and returned to their upper room. They didn’t return there to continue to wait for Jesus to show up and fix everything. They joined with the wider community and they prayed and listened and prepared (as much as anyone can) for the Holy Spirit to blow through their lives and set their heads on fire. Then they were on the move.
When will we as church move? When will we let go of all that does not bring the realm of God into being? When will we hear the angels saying, “You can’t stay here?” Shouldn’t we be spending time in prayer, in listening, and in preparation for the Holy Spirit to show up? I hope she shows up soon. There’s a lot of outdated, useless debris that needs to be blown out of church as we know it. And there’s more than a few heads that need some holy flames to clear away the long-accumulated clutter.
It’s clear that we can’t stay here. We can’t sit comfortably in our pews with our familiar rituals and traditions while the world around us continues to break open and bleed all over our streets. We cannot remain comfortably silent while racism runs rampant and too many people actively cling to the ignorant dangers of white supremacy. We cannot whisper our prayers and wait for God to show up while hatred, bigotry, homophobia, ableism, sexism and transphobia are written into law. We cannot continue doing what we’ve “always done” while the government gives permission to keep those who are poor, hungry, homeless, or sick invisible to the wealthy and powerful. We cannot stare up into the sky at what used to be while gunshots echo through our streets and war ravishes the homelands of our neighbors. Church, we cannot stay here.
In these last days of Eastertide, let us spend time in prayer, in listening, and in preparing for the Holy Spirit. It is time for us to move. It is time for us to leave behind the holy moments and places of yesterday. We cannot keep silent and wait for God to fix what we’ve had a part in breaking. It is time for us to come down off the mountaintop we’ve been camped out on and be church, be Christ for one another, for our neighbors, for all whom we meet. If ever there were a time when the world needed to experience a Love so fierce as to create holy oneness, that time is now. Let’s get ready to move because we really cannot stay here.
For other thoughts on this week’s readings and sermon help try here.
RCL Year A – Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 28, 2017
Ps 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Photo: CC0 image by Hermann Traub