Summary: A sermon for Ascension Day.
I have a tendency to daydream. It’s something I’ve done since I was very young, probably longer than I remember. Though, I attribute my daydreaming tendencies to my fourth grade class, which also happens to be my earliest memory of daydreaming. Mr. Powell’s class was arranged in such a way that I was sitting on an aisle on the very back row. So, I had only one person beside me, and a whole wall of windows behind me. It was very easy for me to turn my head just the slightest bit and get a great view of everything that was happening outside. So that’s exactly what I did, often, checking out of whatever was going on in Mr. Powell’s room, ignoring the obnoxious cooty-boy across the aisle from me, and daydreaming about whatever was going on outside…wishing I could be there. It’s something I still do, even to this day; whether staring out the window of my office when I’m trying to write a sermon, or staring off into space when I’m tired, my mind often wanders off. And if anyone happens to be around, before I know it, that person is waving their hand in front of my face or saying, “Get your head out of the clouds!”
For ages, artists have made great efforts to depict the Ascension of our Lord in paintings. Some of those paintings have been rather comical, with images of Jesus’ feet dangling from beneath a mass of clouds. And in all of those paintings, the disciples were looking up; one or two of them might have even been thinking to themselves, “Come on, Jesus, get your head out of the clouds!” But the thing is Jesus’ ascension was about much more than his vertical locomotion to the heavens! Out of the ten verses we read this morning, only half of one tells us about Jesus going up into heaven. The importance of the ascension lies in the words that Jesus says to his disciples before he goes anywhere. He knows that if anyone needs grounding, it’s them. Jesus knows that if there’s anyone that needs to get their heads out of the clouds, it’s the disciples.
After his Resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with his disciples. And after those 40 days the disciples were starting to get a little restless. They were wondering what was going to happen now that Christ had been resurrected, so they started asking questions. They wanted to know what the next step was. They were wondering when Jesus the Messiah would restore the kingdom of Israel as God had always promised his people he would do. So, as Jesus prepares to ascend to heaven, he gives the disciples some direction. Our reading this morning tells us that “[Jesus] opened their mind to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
As the disciples were waiting for Jesus to do something great, he pointed right back and them and told them it was their turn. He said, “You are witnesses.” And that includes us; that includes where we are right his minute! Right here in Soddy Daisy (Hixson), Tennessee. This place is included in Jesus’ commission. We are to be God’s witnesses here! The promise of the Holy Spirit, the “power from on high” as Jesus calls it, is a promise for this community and a promise for this time, and a promise for this church!
Just when the disciples were busying themselves with wonder about what would happen next, just when it would have been so easy for them to get distracted by all that was going on around them, just when they could have spent the next several hours with their heads in the clouds wondering where exactly Jesus disappeared to, Jesus’ words bring them, and us, back down to earth again! “Get your head out of the clouds! You’ve got work to do!” The terrible temptation that disciples of Jesus face is that it is so easy to get lazy thinking that Christ will sort everything out when he returns. We even go to great lengths predicting when exactly Christ will return, perhaps so we don’t have to do any “real” work!
It’s hard to believe it was just a year ago that the head of The Family Radio Broadcasting Network, Harold Camping, predicted, through 2,000 billboards worldwide, that on May 21, 2011 the righteous, which totaled 3 percent of humanity, was to be whisked away to heaven, leaving the rest of us to weather five months of extreme natural disasters until October 21, 2011, whereupon God was to destroy the entire universe and everyone in it. Camping claimed to have “infallible, absolute proof” that this was going to happen, and that there was no point in making plans for Memorial Day Weekend. Sadly, quite a number of people bought into it, selling their possessions and paying big money for billboards.