Discipleship Is Looking Up?

The early apostles walked with Jesus from place to place for some three or four years. They listened to his teachings, watched him perform miracles, and at times had the tried and true rules of their sacred faith tested. Jesus showed his disciples everything. They went through the traumatic experience of Jesus being taken from them, crucified, dying and being buried in a tomb, and then the triumphal experience of hearing that he is raised from the dead. And over forty days having Jesus reappear to them and continue to teach them, continue to explain all these things that they have learned, and continue to open their mind toward Scriptures. And then having Jesus take them on a little walk, which I'm sure was not unusual for Jesus and his disciples, to walk from place to place and for him to teach them along the way.

But Jesus takes them to a place where he knows he will be leaving them. And when Jesus moves to the high ground of the hill and says the final things to his disciples, he reminds them that they are equipped and that they are ready, that they are to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit that he has promised them, and that all the promises they have been given along this time will be fulfilled. And even though they question him on the restoration of the kingdom, and, "Is that to happen now?" Jesus says to wait for these things. Then they watch Jesus ascending into the heavens from their presence. None of us would expect to see something like that. As one of the children described, maybe like a hot-air balloon lifting off the ground, there goes Jesus ascending into the heavens, out of their sight. Can you imagine the joy of that moment? And can you imagine the sheer panic of that moment? "Uh-oh, what now?" "What do we do now? He's gone. We have learned these things, yes. He's opened our minds to Scriptures. And now what are we going to do?" So they stand there in a daze, mesmerized in the glory of the moment until two angels come and ask them, "Men of Jerusalem, why are you looking up into the heavens? For Christ, who ascended into the heavens, will return in the same way." Close the chapter. Close the book. "Now what?"

They probably sat there and pow-wowed for a minute. "Didn't he say something about the Holy Spirit coming, that we would be clothed with power from on high?" "Yes, he did." And I'm sure that took away some of their anxiety in those moments. And it probably gave them strength, that as they were leaving from the height of that joy, to realize another joy would be on its way, that they were not going to be abandoned, but that the promised Holy Spirit would come. All they knew was "not many days from now." So you can imagine the apostles and the disciples wandering back to Jerusalem to the place where they were staying.

Well, here we are, Jesus' disciples and apostles in the year 2008, some two thousand years after all these things occurred. And we, like the disciples, are doing some of the work of the church and still at times looking up towards heaven to find guidance on where we may go. "How do we do this? Look where we find ourselves this time. Jesus, help us." I haven't heard anybody say, "Jesus, come back," which has other implications that we'll talk about another Sunday. But we find ourselves often in our busy lives with all our daily activities, moving from place to place, shuffling and struggling, being part of the organizations that we're part of, taking care of our daily needs and the needs of our family, sometimes finding a moment for prayer, and on Sundays coming to church, singing and praying, and then looking up, "What now?"

That's actually a big question in our church right now. "What now? What will we do? What is our vision? Where will we go from here?" It's a question that's being discussed by our elders and Consistory. "Who are we, and where are we going?" We struggle with the issues of finding enough volunteers to do all the work we must do. We sometimes find ourselves facing some staggering odds when we look at the church budget. We often find ourselves faced with challenges that

Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will come upon his disciples on the day we know as Pentecost which is next Sunday. So perhaps next Sunday, as we celebrate the coming of the Spirit historically and the Spirit within us, we too will be energized, we too will be enlightened. Perhaps the eyes of our hearts will be opened that day. Perhaps we may feel the inspiration of the Spirit in ways we have never felt before. May that happen to us. May it wake us up. May it help us see past some of what we see as insurmountable obstacles that face us. May it call us back to the task of praying and discerning. May it call us back to the task of presenting our full selves before God with no pretense or pretending, but just who we are and what we have to offer. May the Spirit work in us and help us to see that one real gift that each of us is given, all different, and find what that gift is and how we might use that gift for God's glory and for the spreading of the Gospel of Christ. May those things happen to us here at Grace.

We are at a crossroads, and we've been dancing through that crossroads for the last four years that I've been here. There is some comfort at being at the crossroads. There is some joy and mysticism about standing and looking up toward the heavens and waiting for God to do something with us, waiting for that Spirit to drive us and move us in a direction. Being at a crossroads is a wonderful time because all of us can come together, as we walk on these different paths, toward that center, which is the church. But there is a new place to which God is calling us. And I'm not sure where that place is. Individually, none of us may be sure. But collectively, through the movement of the Spirit, which is coming, we will be able to find that collective voice of where God is calling Grace United Church of Christ, a congregation some 252 years old. And God is not done with us yet. There is much more to come from this congregation, things that we can hardly imagine. Good things, wonderful things. Movement and energy like we've never seen before. It is coming. Now, we may not feel the complete zap of it next Sunday, but it is coming. I have heard its murmurs. I have seen its stirring in some of you. And it is exciting to me. I have seen it stirring in our youth, in their willingness to do mission and ministry, not only on behalf of this congregation, but to be a teacher to all of us who often get so complacent with our daily lives. So there is movement of the Spirit here. And I guarantee you that this church will not be known as disciples who simply look up, standing there waiting for something to happen because things are already happening, and there is much more to come.

So discipleship is not so much about looking up, though we must spend time in prayer. We must spend time asking God to help us and asking the Spirit to lead us in everything we do. We must be intentional about that. But discipleship is coming together and then going out in the Spirit. There is much that is to come. Pray on that. And it's okay to pray on that looking up to heaven with eyes wide open and hands outstretched. You might notice I do that on some Sundays. When we have Communion, I'm waiting for the Spirit to come down on the elements. and sometimes I'm waiting for the Spirit to descend upon me at times when I need discernment. So you don't have to pray with folded hands, which is what I learned in Sunday School growing up. It was the only way I knew until I went to seminary and learned many ways to pray. But however you do it, pray, discern, try to understand what God is calling you to do as a member of Grace Church. Try to understand what God is calling you to do in the circle of your family and friends.

And the more you do that, the more your gifts will emerge. And your eyes, and all of our eyes, will be opened very wide, and we will all be able to see more clearly. May it be so, and let us pray.

O God, there is much that you have to show us and to teach us. We thank you for everything that you have given to us and for all of these wonderful promises and teachings we have in Christ. Help us to be faithful disciples. Help us to freely give of our time to you. Help us to understand your ways and how they work in every moment of our daily lives. And touch us with a measure of your grace and glory, that we may shine as your people here on earth. In Christ's name, we pray.


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