The Gospel According to Showtunes: Raise You Up

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 1:1-11

The Ascension of Jesus assures that those who come from God, return to God.  Jesus – God’s only begotten Son – came from God as an infant – holy and lowly – and now as resurrected Christ ascends into heaven.  Those who believe in the resurrected and ascended Lord are also on this path.  We, who claim faith in Christ, are new creations; our birth is no longer natural or earthly but from on high with God.  Our faith in Christ has grafts us into the Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul writes, “You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (Romans 11:19-23).  The “broken branches” refer to the people of Israel that did not receive the good news of Jesus Christ and the “grafted branches” refer to the Gentiles that did receive the good news.  Paul guards his listeners (and readers) against pride.  It is because of Christ that we are on the path we are on; therefore, do not be boastful.  We have been set on a particular way – from God to return to God – and how we live and serve in the in-between-time becomes our focus.  We are challenged to keep God at our center so that in God we will “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Jesus sends the disciples to Jerusalem; there they are to await the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is another step in their in-between time from God to God, but the disciples get ahead of themselves.  They don’t want to take a step; they want to take a flying leap forward!  They ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6)?  I can imagine Jesus dropping his chin to his chest and chuckling after hearing this question.  Acts records Jesus response as, “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” (Acts 1:7-8).  My paraphrase of Jesus’ response would go something like this…”Oh you disciples, you still don’t get it.  You are looking for things way in the future when I have asked you to be present in this moment.  We are here for you to receive the Spirit and then you will join me in restoring the Kingdom to the ends of the earth.  Keep focused.  One step at a time.”  Before the disciples can ask any follow-up questions, Jesus ascends.  They stand in awe with their gaze toward heaven.

And eventually…their gaze shifts from the heavens back to earth, back to the mission field, back to the Kingdom that is reigning in some areas and still needing to in-break into others.  God equips the disciples with the Holy Spirit so they are prepared to attend to the work before them.  The disciples are now responsible to carry on Jesus’ revolutionary work and they will do so with the Holy Spirit as their companion.

We, as modern day disciples, also find ourselves on the path “from God to return to God.”  Sure, we can take time to marvel at the heavens and be thankful for the final destination of our path, but we have work to do in the in-between time.  We, like Jesus’ disciples, have to uncrane our necks from the heavens and get dirt back under our fingernails.  Jesus is not going to do the work for us and we cannot stand idle until he returns in glory.  There is work to be done.  We are equipped by God’s Spirit to do it.  And we will do it – one step at a time.

Prayer: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, ‘Take thy cross and follow, follow me.’  He will give me grace and glory, he will give me grace and glory, he will give me grace and glory, and go with me, with me, all the way.  Where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow; I’ll go with him, with him, all the way.”* Amen.

*”Where He Leads Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 338.

 

Advertisements

Heritage: Birth of the Church

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 2:1-12

This Sunday the Christian Church celebrates Pentecost!  The great fifty days of Easter are complete – meaning the Season of Easter is complete – yes, Easter is a season as well as a day!  And now we cross the threshold into the season of Pentecost…which is many many many more days than the season of Easter.  In fact, in the liturgical year, the season of Pentecost is the longest season…lasting 27 weeks this year!  Woah!  That’s 189 days of Pentecost!  Good thing I like the color green.

(Extra points to the friends that catch that reference!)

Pentecost is the birth of the church.  On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit is given to humanity, Peter preaches one intense sermon, and then Acts 2:41-42 tells us “So those who welcomed his [Peter’s] message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

They devoted themselves to what we now know as the pattern of worship in the church – teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers.

Thomas Troeger – one of my all-time favorite authors, poets, and hymnwriters – likens Pentecost to a homecoming.  Folks are gathering from the corners of the earth in one central location to remember, to celebrate, and to reconnect.

When I think about my high school homecomings…I am overwhelmed with memories of friends running around in garnet and gold war paint, waving our arms as tomahawks to the driving and deafening beats coming from our marching band, and cheering our football team to victory.  “Garnet!  Gold! We Are!  Lake Gibson!”

We had one goal – one mission – win the game!  The players, coaches, cheerleaders, dancers, color guard, band, and crowd – one goal, one mission – win the game!  In certain moments it was like we moved as one, breathed as one, tackled as one, scored as one.  And when the game was over, winners or losers, we would sing our school song and go home.

The homecoming game wasn’t the only football game we played each year; the season was 12 games in duration.  But the other games didn’t seem to have the same spirit as the homecoming game.  They just were…when the homecoming game was.

So I think about this likening to Pentecost – as a homecoming for the church.  This one day we celebrate as one, sing as one, for some churches wear red as one, and for other churches (I hope Reeves does this!) eat cake as one!

Let’s face it…we all need to walk around with red-dyed mouths.  It will be awesome!

There’s so much spirit on Pentecost.  The church is overwhelming with energy. It’s a mountain top experience…and then (as it’s been my experience) the church falls hard back into the valley.  The spirit dissipates and it’s back to church as usual.  And I don’t know about you, but I’m over church as usual.

I want that spirit and energy of Pentecost every week!  Every Sunday is a little Easter – our remembrance of the resurrection – of Jesus defeating sin and death.  Every Sunday is also a little Pentecost – an opportunity for the church to come home, to remember, to celebrate, to collaborate, and to return to service in the world.  I’m not saying every week in worship needs to be a high-energy hoopla of a service.  God’s presence can be known in the mighty earthquake and a thunderstorm as well as a still small voice.  There is presence – mighty presence – in stillness as there is in loud exaltation.  What I am saying is that every week in worship needs to be an authentic reflection and response to the moving of the Spirit in our midst.

God is faithful in giving the Spirit.  May we be faithful as we are enlivened by it.  May our worship reflect our reception of it.  May our worship be a pleasing fragrance, a holy and living sacrifice to our God.

Reflection: How will we allow the Spirit to lead us?  How will our worship reflect the in-breaking and presence of God’s Spirit?  How will we be a Pentecost people every Sunday of the year?

Prayer: “Holy Spirit, wind and flame, move within our mortal frame; make our hearts an altar pyre; kindle them with your own fire.  Breathe and blow upon that blaze till our lives, our deeds, and ways speak the tongue which every land by your grace shall understand.”* Amen.

* from “Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 538.