Hope Lutheran Church
God has a mission. God has a church.
“While he was going and they were staring, and staring, and staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand, staring toward heaven?” MNT (Matt’s New Translation)
During his years of ministry, Jesus was intensely immersed in the mission God had given him. (See John 17:4) He revealed the inbreaking power of God in this world as he healed the sick, raised the dead, and welcomed the outcast. In his work the world saw glimpses of the Kingdom of God that was being ushered in. The cross was the culmination of the life-giving redemptive work laid upon his shoulders, and the empty tomb the ushering in of a new reality that though death, suffering, and sin still existed in this world, it no longer reigned supreme. Now death no longer was the end and it no longer gets the last word.
Now, as Jesus was returning to the Father, he looked to his followers, a group of ordinary men and women, to continue God’s mission. He told them that with the Holy Spirit’s help, they would now be the ones to witness all the way to the ends of the earth, proclaiming all they had seen and heard. So what do they do? Stand there... and stare... and stare... and stare...
Sure, it would have been an awe-inspiring moment, but did they not hear what Jesus just said? You will be my witnesses! You will go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and beyond! You are who I have chosen to take up God’s work here and now! God’s work, Your hands disciples... hmmm... where have I heard that before?
Here’s the thing though. In their predictable relapse, becoming again a group that just doesn’t get it sometimes, we see ourselves, don’t we? I do anyway. I recall times I was so consumed with a menial project, focused inward, forgetting that what we are about as a church is not, first and foremost, ourselves. As our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton reminds us often, “We are not church for the sake of ourselves, but instead, we are church for the sake of the world”.
It is easy for us to get caught up “staring”, admiring some of the amazing ministry we get to be a part of, as though it was a piece of artwork to be placed in a museum to look at. It is easy to get focused on the church of the past, of the glory days 10, 20, or even 30 years ago, and spend time trying to get back there. The trouble is, now is not then, and the world we are called into is not the same as it used to be.
Don’t get me wrong, we are doing great things through him who strengthens us by grace, day after day. I’m proud to be pastor, your brother and yokemate here at Hope, where we chase the mission God has for us, day after day. The ascension of Jesus, and the staring of the Apostles serves as a helpful correction, though. It serves as a reminder that we ought to keep our eyes and imagination open that we don’t find ourselves in a rut, doing the same old, same old, unable to see that God is calling his church over in a new or different way. It reminds us to take care that we don’t become gawkers, but instead, as Paul put it, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have apprehended it myself; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal, into the prize of THE CALL of God in Jesus Christ.” MNT (Matt’s New Translation)
This we can do because Christ has freed us to look fearlessly into the future, because death no longer has the final say. This we can do because Jesus promises to help us, by sending the Holy Spirit, that will call and gather us each day. This we can do, because God has a mission... and God has a church... and God calls this church (you and me) to be a part of it. Pastor Matt