Called to Earth

Art by Wilby. http://iasos.com/artists/wilby/
Art by Wilby. http://iasos.com/artists/wilby/

“Isaac, go find your shoes so we can go to the store.”

We’d say that.  

Most of the time he’d even cooperate. That is, 2-year-old Isaac would go into his less-than-immaculate room to find his shoes. When he didn’t come back we’d go looking for him. More times than I can count we’d find him standing in the middle of his room staring at the ceiling.

“I can’t find my shoes.”

Sometimes, he’d even do a little spin around as he looked on the ceiling for his shoes.

***

We’ve spent the last six weeks or so on a journey with Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem. When we finally got to Jerusalem, we, like the disciples were overjoyed. We waved palms, we laid our coats down on the ground for Jesus. We rolled out the red carpet and thought we’d finally arrived at God’s promise.

God in Jesus was called to Earth to fix everything. Like a repairman we thought Jesus would fix things up and make us all better. Or so we thought.

Within a week things went bad. By Friday, Jesus was dead. The disciples scattered, hiding for fear of the same fate. Peter even denied he knew Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. All was lost or so we thought.

“Hello, yes, uh huh, yes the repairman didn’t fix the fridge. We’re gonna need another guy out.”

Then, rather than sending a new guy out to us and the disciples, God did one better. Jesus rose from the dead. Ahhh, now it was all better. The fridge was humming away. The kingdom of Israel was getting a new king. Rome was on its way out and all was cool in the fridge.

Then, according to Luke’s gospel, the repairman, Jesus that is, hung around very briefly before leaving.

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.Luke 24:50-53 NRSV

And so ends the gospel of Luke.

God in Jesus was called to Earth to fix everything. The fridge is fixed and humming away. And, so the repairman leaves and the disciples go about their business of praying in the Temple.

Fade to black. The movie is over. We’ve had our happy ending.

***

Like a lot of good movies, there’s a sequel. The writer of Luke is commonly believed to have also written the book of Acts. We don’t know exactly who he was. Some think he was Jesus’ disciple Luke. Probably he wasn’t. Scholars do think he was well-traveled and a Greek gentile with an understanding of Judaism. According to Acts, he sometimes traveled with the Apostle Paul.

And though he almost certainly was not the apostle Luke, we refer to him as Luke. We know that he wrote Acts sometime between 60 and 125 of the Christian era. That’d be three decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection at the earliest and most scholars place the writing of Acts closer to the year 80 or 90.

In any case, we know that sometime after his first installment, Luke set out to write the sequel to his gospel, Acts of the Apostles.

Only thing is the ending of Luke and the beginning of Acts don’t literally agree with one another. At the end of Luke, the risen Jesus only hangs around for a short time. While in the beginning of Acts, the resurrected Jesus hangs around for a full forty days.

This should not alarm or surprise us. As one scholar says,

“Luke had no intention of writing a scientific, disinterested history…” (Johnson, Sacra Pagina, Acts of the Apostles, p. 7)

Ancient Historiography is not the same as what we think of as a history. It is far more biased than any of our history books.Acts is a selective account of what happened in the days and years following Jesus’ resurrection. It is shaped by Luke’s theological beliefs and his pastoral purposes. In other words, the narrative unfolds to support Luke’s theological aim. It was written for believers to assist them in their faith.(Wall, New Interpreter’s Bible)

In other words, Luke can have a contradiction between the end of the Gospel and the start of Acts because his purpose in writing the sequel is different than his purpose in writing the original story. The gospel is a biographical theology about Jesus. Acts is a selective historical theology about the early church.

Acts is like movies that are “based on true events” but that don’t always get the facts exactly right. In the words of Methodist Bishop and scholar William H. Willimon,

“Luke was an artist, not a newspaper reporter.” (Willimon, Interpretation: Acts, loc. #583)

***

From the perspective of the disciples, God in Jesus was called to Earth to fix everything. I mean, he said so himself. During his human lifetime, Jesus kept talking about the kingdom of God, what I oftentimes call the realm of God.

And, so you can’t really blame the disciples when after the resurrection, while Jesus is inexplicably hanging around for forty days, they keep wondering when Jesus is gonna establish the Kingdom. And so they ask the risen Christ,

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1: 6b NRSV

They were getting antsy. They’d seen remarkable things. I think a guy rising from the dead AFTER three days counts as remarkable. But from their perspective he just hangs around then for forty days teaching them some more. I imagine they were getting impatient. I would.

And so like disciples, we get impatient. We want to know all the answers, all the details. We’re uncomfortable living in the ambiguity, in this time of the world’s and the church’s history when answers are not so simple…

We’re uncomfortable living in a time filled with rapid changes that we can barely understand. We want to sew up all the answers, put ‘em in a box, and tie a bow around ‘em.

Some of our evangelical friends even get so focused on the end-times that they see signs all around us. They see signs that have been misinterpreted from the Book of Revelation. They want to know — now — when Jesus is establishing the Kingdom. They want to know all about the end-times…every detail.

But its not just our more evangelical friends. It’s not just about the end-times. We, too, want to know and control the future, we want to know and control how we’ll eat, who we’ll marry, how our bodies age, and who gets into the Kingdom (us) and who does not (the folks we don’t like.)

We want the hopefulness that comes from God having the final word–especially in these troubled times and world–but we focus too much on that future and not enough on doing God’s will in the here and the now. We’re too worried about ourselves and what will happen to us rather than focusing on others and doing God’s will.

Like the disciples who were getting impatient during those forty days after the resurrection, we want Jesus the repairman to fix things all up for us. When the disciples ask,

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1: 6b NRSV

he responds just as he did during his earthly life. He’s not telling.

The risen Christ replies,

“It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. Acts 1:7b NRSV

After rebuffing them about worrying about when the Kingdom, the realm of God, would be established, he told them that their concern was not about when God’s love would finally be established throughout creation. Rather their focus should be about being his loving, “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Luke 1:8b NRSV)

He told them that they will be given the gifts of the Holy Spirit that they need in order to do as he commands. (Luke 1:8a) But after Jesus ascends, the disciples act like they didn’t hear what they should be concerned about. Their focus is misplaced.

After Jesus ascends the disciples stare at nothingness, staring at the clouds, looking backwards to the past, spinning around in a circle. Just like 2-year-old Isaac spun around looking at the ceiling for his shoes, the disciples spin around staring into the clouds.

Isaac & the disciples are both desperately in need of guidance. Neither are able to find their way, to find the shoes without help. Isaac needs to look under his bed, in the corner, and under his covers.The disciples need to look toward Jerusalem, in all of Judea, and to the ends of the earth. They are called to earth not to the clouds.

And like the disciples, like the 2-year-old, we too are spinning around confused when we try to do it alone, when we try to be in control. When we make ourselves in the image of this earth rather than being Christ’s witnesses to this earth, we fail to do God’s will. We fail to heed the risen Christ’s call.

We have been given the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We have what we need to be Christ’s witnesses in Condon, in all of eastern Oregon, the Northwest, and to the ends of the earth.

Listen to the Holy Spirit’s luring voice. Stop staring at the ceiling complaining:

“I can’t find my shoes!”

“I don’t know how to be a witness for Christ!”

“I don’t know what to do!

or

“Nobody comes to church anymore, “I remember when…””

Listen to the two men in white robes standing next to you while you stare toward heaven.

“Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1: 11 CEB

We are called to earth. We are called to be witnesses for the risen Christ.

We’ve been praying. We’ve been reading our Bibles. We’ve been worshiping together weekly. Those things should not stop. We will always need prayer, and Bible study, and worship.

Called to earth, however, we’re expected to do more than spin around in circles looking up at the clouds waiting for Christ to establish the realm of God on earth.

We’re called to participate in being the realm of God on earth. What is it that we, that you can do? What can you do to be the presence of God to someone in this community without a church home? How can we as the koinonia — as the people of God — witness to those in this community who are hurting, who need healing, or are wandering aimlessly looking for shoes on the ceiling?

These are not academic questions. These are questions that we need to answer…in the short term and concretely. By the beginning of next month, we will create small groups to prayerfully consider what we can do to be the risen Christ’s witness in Condon, in eastern Oregon, in the northwest and to the ends of the earth.

These groups will meet regularly for about six weeks. One group could meet at 3 in the afternoon on Thursdays. One might meet over breakfast on Tuesdays. One could meet at Summit Springs at 10:30 in the morning.  I don’t know. That’s to be determined yet.

The key is we will have choices to suit your schedule. I’d like to see full participation as we strive to respond to the still-speaking voice of God.

God calls us to earth to be the risen Christ’s witnesses. The Holy Spirit has gifted us with all that we need to do and be Christ’s witnesses. 

The time for staring at the clouds or the ceiling is over. The two men in white, the Holy Spirit is nudging us to be the church we all know we can be.

Please pray with me,

God of Mystery,

We Seek You.

We Desire You.

Yet we run the other way, 

filling our lives with noise and busyness,

seeking to hide your voice from ourselves.

Slow us down.

Cause us to hear You in the unexpected places, 

Cause us to hear You,

   in the doing of laundry, 

in the wheat field or the office, 

and as we sing along to our iPods.

Cause us to hear you amidst the noise, 

in the quiet,

and in the struggles.

Persuade us to heed your call,

to act as agents of your justice and love,

in Condon and to the ends of the earth.

In the name of the risen Christ,

Amen.

This sermon was preached at Condon United Church of Christ on Sunday, April 7, 2013.

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