Why Do You Stand Looking Up?

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

 I. Greetings Theophilus

Greetings Theophilus, welcome to the continued Easter story, the continuation of Christ’s appearances after his resurrection. Welcome to the story of Jesus ascending into heaven as he gives his disciples instruction for their commissioning into the world and to wait on the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The book of Acts is addressed to Theophilus, which some scholars believe was a convert to Christianity who was seeking instruction from the writer, however, Theophilus, in Greek, is translated as friend or lover of God.  And we as the people of God, the ones who choose to be followers of Jesus Christ, we hope to be and base our lives on being friends and lovers of God.  So even if Theophilus was a real person, we can envision that this book is written to us as we hold the title of friend and lover of God.  So let us take note, of this story as Jesus speaks to his disciples and the writer shares this story as they speak to a lover of God, a friend of the Most High.

II. The Journey of the Disciples


As we look at our scripture, this morning, we know that the disciples have been through quite a lot.  They have traveled the rough terrain from the Galilee area to Jerusalem learning the teachings of Jesus.  Their lives were changed and transformed. The things that they knew were dramatically different than what they had been raised in.  There world had taught them that they should blindly follow the law and Jewish tradition, that there were codes for cleanliness and rituals for holiness.  They had been taught that there were certain people that were unclean because of sickness in their body, which they must have brought on themselves from some ancestral sin or sin that they have committed.  They had been taught that the Roman Empire had a reign that was supreme. The had been taught there was a hierarchy in life that puts people in specific stations, that there were those who were above others because of their office and riches and others were left at the bottom and neglected.  They were taught that men were superior to women and children.  These were the things that they had grown up with, these were the structural norms that they were shaped in.  And yet Jesus came and taught them things that challenged their whole way of being, transformed them, and called them to function in love.  Jesus taught them that the law was important, but that he was the fulfillment of law, he was the living word, and that they should function in his love when they were implementing the law of the scriptures.  Jesus taught them that they should sit with those who have been cast out by society and that they should see the humanity of all people.  They were taught not to reject human beings who have been outcasts for various reasons.  Jesus taught that those who were sick were human beings that need healing just like everyone else and not people who had committed sin or were victims of an ancestral sin.  Jesus taught them that the Kingdom of God reigned above that of the Roman Empire, because the Kingdom of God is not bound by any territory, but is a reign that goes beyond all bounds.  Jesus taught them that the Kingdom of God declares God’s saving power over all of creation and this was inaugurated in the ministry of Jesus and carried out in a present and future reality. Jesus taught them that in Jesus Christ there was no hierarchy, but that we are all Children of God that need God’s grace imparted upon us.  Jesus had transformed their whole being. They had dedicated their lives to learning from the teacher.
And as the story continued they witnessed him betrayed by one who they thought was their own.  They saw their Lord, their teacher, the messiah, turned over to authorities.  And because they had dedicated their lives to Jesus and what he taught, they ran in fear and scattered as their Lord was held in custody, fearful they might be next.  They witnessed that their Lord, Jesus, was beaten, bruised, battered, and torn apart.  They had witnessed their Lord, Jesus, carry his own cross to the place called the skull as he struggled along the way.  They saw their Lord, Jesus, stretched out and nailed to that cross he carried.  They watched him struggle to breathe as he suffocated, breathed his last, and died. They grieved for three days as Jesus laid in the tomb.  And they witnessed the empty tomb, believing that the body of Jesus had been stolen, that he was gone.  And then Jesus appeared to them, revealing that he had risen, that he had been resurrected and that now new life was possible for humanity as they reconnected back to their creator.  Over this time Jesus had appeared to the disciples several times, shared time with them, and shared with them the teachings of the good news.  The disciples have been through an emotional roller coaster, they have literally been through the valley of the shadow of death and have emerged on the other side and they are waiting for direction.  So they ask Jesus, when will you restore the Kingdom of Israel Jesus, what should we do, what should we look forward to, what must happen.  And yet Jesus responds in quite cryptic terms, as he has done quite often.  He says, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But 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 ends of the earth,” all as he ascends into heaven and he disappears.  The disciples are turning to Jesus for the answer, and he is disappearing into heaven.  Its like if a child asks their mother on how to tie their shoe or some other form of instruction and a mother says, “The way to do this will be revealed to you soon,” and the mother walks away from the child, while the child is confused and left hanging.  The disciples are likely feeling the same way as this child.  We have asked you what to do, we don’t know what to do and for some reason you are leaving us without the answers. Wait Jesus! Wait Jesus! What are you doing Jesus? Where are you going Jesus? So they look up staring into the heavens because Jesus has disappeared into the clouds, their eyes are fixated on the place where they knew their answers would come, they held their eyes on the place where their last source of hope left them.  They are looking up in the clouds, watching as Jesus disappears into the heavens, and wondering what to do next.  They are looking up – Why do you stand looking up? What are you looking for? What do you see?  The word goes out to the disciples, “Why do you stand looking up?”

 III. We are Moving From Death To Life

In many ways, we are like the disciples.  We have experienced a lot. We have gone through the very depths of death and have come out on the other side and we are looking to the Lord for indication on what to do next.  Where to go, what to do, and how to act.  We have experienced the ups and downs of church and denominational changes that have made us uncomfortable and created tension, we have been hurt and have drifted apart, feeling distant from one another. But now we are on the other end where the time has come to unify with one another.  We have been isolated from one another for over a year as the COVID Pandemic has kept us from one another so that we could keep one another safe.  But the time has come where we are beginning to re-emerge into society and some things feel a bit off and a little awkward.  But we turn to God to find out how to proceed. We have had our disagreements with loved ones, going through the ups and downs of how to make a resolution. But now we are looking for the answers to what is next and how to proceed.  We are standing there looking up. We are waiting for the answers, trying to figure out how to get through the death we have experienced and to move on to a place of new life and restoration, a place of new life and renewal.  So we are looking up, looking up to see where the answers are. Why do you stand looking up? Why do you stand looking around dumbfounded Theophilus?  Why do you stand looking up lover and friend of God, looking to things when the savior has given you what you need? Why do you stand looking up when the resolution is coming, the resolution is on its way?

As we look out into the world there are many things that we have endured that have taken us as a society to the very brink of deaths doors.  There is such violence in the world in which many major cities are riddled with gun violence that rips lives from their families far too soon. There have been mass shootings that have ultimately brought our society to a place of being numb when violence seems to break out.  There are many situations in which many around the world are suffering from hunger, and we don’t even have to go around the globe to find those affected by poverty and hunger. And we are about 7 years from the beginning of the Flint water crisis, and that city is just coming to the end of its water issues. We still give people mistreatment because of differences in class, gender, sexuality, or race.  Gaza has had several days of attacks continuing the divide between Israel and Palestine and causing thousands of Palestinians to be displaced from the violence in their communities.  Our society as a whole is standing looking up, looking for the answers that will allow us to move through this, to get on the other side of these things that weigh heavy on us placing us in the depths of death.  We as the people of God are looking up searching for the answers to share God’s love, peace, and justice in the world. Why do you stand looking up? Why do you stand looking up Theophilus?  Why do you stand looking up lover and friend of God?

 IV. Where Are You Going Jesus?

The disciples are watching Jesus ascend to heaven and their question hangs in the air, almost as if they are holding their breath waiting for the reply.  “Lord, is this the time that you will restore the kingdom of Israel?”  Israel was waiting for the coming of the Messiah that the kingdom of Israel would be restored, that it might come out of the control of the Roman Empire. But Jesus was bringing restoration to the entire world, a restoration that they were not ready to understand. And we are standing here asking, “Lord, is it the time you will restore the world?”  When can we expect to get out of this time of death, and how do we proceed now that you have brought new life? Lord, you have got to show us what we can do.  We are standing looking up, expectant, waiting.  Why do you stand looking up? Why do you stand looking up? What do you mean why do I stand looking up? I am looking to the place where my savior left, doesn’t he know we still need his help? Why do you stand looking up?

V. Building the Kingdom Of God

Jesus is saying to us and the disciples, the time is coming when you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit poured out on you.  When the disciples received the Holy Spirit, it was the first instance of the Holy Spirit moving and touching everyone. It was the moment that in the absence of the physical presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was given as a comforter.  The Holy Spirit was offered to all people and the presence of the Holy Spirit had the possibility to save and transform the whole world, opening up the realization of the reign of the Kingdom of God on earth. And when the spirit poured out on the disciples, they became witnesses to the transformational power of Jesus Christ, sharing love to all.  They were called to carry the good news of Jesus Christ as witnesses to the whole world.  And as we hear this scripture this morning, we hear Jesus telling us that we will have a renewal of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  It is coming, we just have to wait.  Because when it does, we will be witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.  And when we share the love of Jesus the world is transformed because we are working to build the Kingdom of God here on this earth.

When we talk about the Kingdom of God, we are talking about God’s saving power over all of creation.  This was ushered in through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But that is just the beginning, the creation of the Kingdom of God is continued in the faithful ministry of the believing community. The Kingdom of God is a present reality that we carry into the future.  The Kingdom of God is enacted when we love one another, it is enacted when all people can come together in peace, love, and justice regardless of race, creed, or culture.  The Kingdom of God is brought about when we function in God’s love.

            As we gather together, in the place where we remember the ascension, we are sitting here today looking up, waiting for repair, waiting for redemption, waiting for God to show up.  We have experienced so much, and we are looking up, saying Jesus have you forgotten something, Jesus let us know what we need to do.  But the question comes, Why do you stand looking up? And we are reminded that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is coming.  We are getting our instruction on what to do and how to proceed.  We are told how we can spread the good news to the world as witnesses, that we might unify ourselves, repairing any rifts we have, restoring our personal and communal beings, and spread the love, peace, and justice of Jesus into the world.   As we prepare for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit let us be in prayer this week, that God might show us how we might move in partnership with God to bring about the reign of the Kingdom of God that transforms the world, a reign that brings in Beloved Community. Amen.