Have you ever watched someone you love lift off in a hot air balloon or seen the space shuttle blast off to outer space? You will find yourself watching it drift out of sight.
Jesus said, “‘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.” After saying this, Jesus was lifted up and a cloud swept out of the disciple’s sight. While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two strangers in white robes stood there saying, “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.”
There are no dumb questions, but “Why are you looking at heaven?” seems like a dumb question for an angel to ask. Don’t you think you would have kept watching until Jesus was a less than the tiniest speck in the sky?
“Why are you looking up to heaven?” We have been looking up to heaven for a long time at least since Abram built an altar. We build altars, ascend temple steps, sit on mountain tops, kneel in grooves, and conscrecate prayer towers. We look up to heaven.
In sermonizing their question “Why are you looking up to heaven?”, the angels seem to miss Jesus’ point. The angels speak of Jesus returning in the clouds. Parts of the church spend a lot of time and spiritual energy worrying about when Jesus may come again. However, Jesus pre-launch speech does not mention a second coming. No, Jesus spent the forty days after Easter, teaching about God’s kingdom, not running a prophecy seminar. Jesus teaches us to pray “on earth as in heaven”, but so often we keep staring at heaven. Just before ascending Jesus teaches: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. 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.”Jesus is not focused coming back, but on us building a kingdom of love and justice on earth as in heaven!
Perhaps, a preoccupation with other worldly matters misses Jesus’ point: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you… you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus’ mission was focussed on earth- perhaps our work should be as well. Why are we standing around gazing towards heaven when we Jesus longs to clothe us in spiritual power, baptize us with a spiritual fire, change us right now, so that we might change the world?
In Matthew 25, Jesus asks the eternal questions. Jesus’ evaluation does not center in what we believed about heaven, but what we did on earth: inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me. The righteous didn’t even know they are righteous. Perhaps the saints are not focussed on a heavenly reward but on their neighbors need?
“Why stand around looking toward heaven?” This question kinda stirred a poem.
Word Made Flesh
God With Us
Born through Mary’s labor
Swaddled in rags
Laid in a cow’s crib
Worshipped by Magi
A refugee in Egypt
Worked as a carpenter
Traveled about healing
Prayed “on earth as in heaven”
Called IRS agents and commercial fishermen
Feed the hungry
Healed the sick
Forgave the judged
Challenged the Orthodoxy
Loved neighbor, stranger, and enemy
Anointed by Magdalene
Ascended to Heaven
Baptizing with fire
To the ends of the age.
In feeding the hungry
in forgiving the guilty
in welcoming the stranger
in loving the enemy
In breaking bread
even when two of us pray
to the ends of the earth.
“Why are we standing here looking toward heaven?” When Jesus’ work is about earth more than heaven? Why stand around pondering heaven, when Jesus promised, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you… you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit and you will bear witness to the ends of the earth?”
In fact, in John 14 Jesus speaks of something seemingly preposterous, “I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.” You may say “no way, Jesus”, but before you do, consider that although those lined up for healing from Jesus stretched out beyond the door, last year Methodist Hospital in Memphis cared for 20,000 patients and Saint Thomas in Nashville cared for even more. Jesus feed 5,000 people in one day; Room in the Inn had 7,000 volunteers, offered 62,000 meals, and gave 31,000 people a bed for the night.
Why are you heaven gazing? When the risen Christ is still with us. Jesus did not come, drop of some rules and skedaddle. Listen to Saint Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3, “I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, The Lord may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” Amen
One last ascension poem: Saint Patrick prayed,
I arise today through the strength of Christ’s birth and baptism,
through the strength of His crucifixion and burial,
through the strength of His resurrection and ascension,
through the strength of His return and judgment of doom.
I arise today In the prayers of patriarchs, in the preaching of the apostles,in faith of matriarchs,
in innocence of the pure,in deeds of the righteous.
I arise today through the strength of heaven; light of the sun,splendor of fire,speed of lightning,
swiftness of the wind,depth of the sea,stability of the earth,firmness of the rock.
I arise today God’s strength to pilot me; God’s might to uphold me,God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,God’s ear to hear me,God’s word to speak for me,God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me,Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today…. amen.
Why are you gazing at heaven?You will be baptized with holy fire not too many days from now, so worship deeply, watch that holy vapor trail long enough But get going- Go make earth more like heaven. Amen!