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Where Are You Gazing?

by Janet in NJ

based on Acts 1:6-14

Based mainly on Act 1:10-11.

A few days ago I came across some light bulb jokes on the internet. I don't know why, but I like light bulb jokes. And there are lots of church light bulb jokes. How many Roman Catholics does it take to change a light bulb. The priest composes a homily in honor of the old light bulb, while the nuns raffle off the old one. How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb? Change? My grandmother donated that light bulb. Ok, how many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Well, six to form a committee to study it. The property committee will actually change it. The fellowship committee organizes a pot-luck dinner, and after it's changed, people look back and lament that the old one is gone, because that one shone the way light bulbs were supposed to shine.

Well, light bulb jokes are silly, but like many jokes, it's the kernel of truth that makes them funny. And we church members do have a way of looking back and hanging on to the past. No, not just church members. Members of the human race. We remember the good old days and look back to what was, to what worked, to who or what we loved.

"Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?" Jesus had ascended into heaven, and his disciples stood looking up to where he had been. They were looking up to the last place they had seen their Lord. But he was gone. Who knows how long they would have stood looking back, looking up into heaven if the two heavenly beings hadn't tapped them on the shoulders and asked them why they were looking up toward heaven. It was time to move on. Time to do something else. And so they did. They went back to Jerusalem, back to the room upstairs where they were staying. And they prayed. A good thing to do when it's time to change.

There was no going back. Jesus had returned to heaven. But he had told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the helper, the Holy Spirit that he was sending to them. So now they were caught in this in-between time of waiting. The time between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They didn't know when it would come. They didn't know what would happen next. They didn't know what their next assignment would be. So they turned to the Lord in prayer - not to turn back to what was, but to wait and to discern what was to be so that they could be witnesses to Christ in Jerusalem, in Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth.

The church is in an in between time now. We are in the time of the Holy Spirit, waiting for Jesus to return to the earth, to claim his faithful. And we have been given an assignment. To be witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ to in this area. And to be witnesses beyond here - to all the ends of the earth. And like Peter and James and John, and the rest of the disciples, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to do that.

But like the disciples, we sometimes are caught gazing up - gazing back at what was - to the good old days when the church was successful. To the good old days, when most Americans went to church and brought their children. When there were no soccer fields and baseball fields that were busy on Sunday mornings. When there were no stores open to be filled with shoppers on Sunday mornings.

But things have changed. People have a lot of choices now on Sunday mornings. Old fashioned hymns aren't familiar to as many people. The stately liturgies confuse visitors instead of drawing them into worship. Some people dress up, some people dress down. Some people come to hear the music or the message, some come to soothe their souls, some come to be nourished by the Lord's supper, and some come for all of the above reasons. But whatever it is that draws people in, the need is the same as it was 20 years ago, 100 years ago, 2000 years ago. The need is still to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. People still need to hear that God loves them - God loves you. No exceptions. God loves you. Even if you feel unlovable. Even if your having a bad day, and it's the 500th straight bad day in a row. God loves you - neat or sloppy. God loves you - whether you have the voice of an angel or the growl of a lion. God loves you - whether you get straight a's or you're an average student or even if you didn't make it through school. God loves you.

And here's some more good news. God loves us so much that he doesn't leave us the way we are. When we are open to being changed by God, you may find that life changes much more drastically than a light bulb. And when we, as a people of God, as the church are open to change, we may find that God will change our church as well. We might enjoy looking back to the way things were, but we need to be looking around at the way things are, at who we are witnessing to so that we may witness in ways that people will hear. Because the important thing about being the church is not that we carry on lovely traditions, as nice as they may be. But the important thing is that we continue to grow as Christians, and that we continue to make the good news of Jesus Christ known. The message is the main thing.

God dearly loves the people of this world and wants them to know it. God loves the people of this world so much that he sent his only son, Jesus Christ to this earth to teach us about God's love, and to die and conquer death for us. God wants health and life and peace for us. God commands us to love him and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Not only the neighbors who come to church. But any neighbor that we might encounter. Any other human that we might encounter. That's part of our witness to Jesus Christ. When we live as Jesus taught, we are witnessing. And of course, when we tell other about Jesus, and invite them in, we are also witnessing.

Like the disciples, we do need to look toward heaven, to turn our hearts toward God. But we can't do just that alone. We need to look at our neighbors as well, and see how we can share the love of Christ with them. A love that came to earth for us. A love that went to the cross for us. A love that abides with us forever.

Jesus even prayed for his disciples - and the ones to come after. That would be us. He prayed that the Father would protect them - and us in the time to come. Our savior intercedes for us - who prays on our behalf for what we need. And always has time to listen to us and comfort us - when we are hurting, when those we love are hurting, when we face difficulties or don't know what to do next, and even when we miss the good old days - the way things were. Amen.


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Frank Schaefer, for JavaCasa Resources and the Desperate Preacher's Site, 1999