Readings being used: Acts 1:6-14 (The Ascension); 1 Peter 4:12-16; 5:6-11 (Don’t be surprised by adversity; be content; stay alert; trust God)
A Calgarian went on line to get a bus ticket to Edmonton. He was surprised when his ticket cost a lot, and even more surprised when the instructions were for a bus heading east. It was then that he noticed NF after the word Edmonton on the ticket.
The reading from Acts describes the disciples witnessing Jesus ascend into the clouds. Afterwards two messengers asked them what are they doing standing around staring at an empty sky? They assured the disciples that he will come as he left. So they returned to the Upper Room where they devoted themselves to prayer. Peter’s letter assured his readers that adversity is not a sign of the absence of God, but, rather, a sign that they are doing what is needed. The letter goes on to say, “Don’t worry. Be happy. Stay alert. God will reward your work.”
The ascension of Jesus is an important milestone in the travels of the followers of Jesus, the beginning of their travels without Jesus leading them in person. There will be many more milestones for the community as it traveled along.
As we consider the travels of that community, we can also reflect on our own travels. A bit over 25 years ago, my wife, two young daughters and I were traveling from Halifax to Alberta for my settlement and ordination. It was an interesting experience driving across Canada with two cheerful, chatty young girls (3 and 1 1/2) with lovely spring weather in Montreal and a brutal return of winter weather in Toronto. We stayed one night with friends in Fredericton where I was invited to an open AA meeting, and learned from our host about how some people have a radically different experience of alcohol than most people. We had a long travel day from Sault Ste. Marie to Marathon in which Bonnie’s and my ears ached from our daughters’ conversations. Then we learned we needed to keep traveling to Dryden because construction on the gold mine at Marathon resulted in that being the closest place we could get a place to stay.
Just a few days over 25 years ago, we were in a motel in Camrose in frequent contact with the Settlement Committee in Saskatchewan waiting to learn where we were going to be settled. The surprise was being settled in Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan, about a 12 hour drive from our families in Calgary, and a site that was not on the list we were originally given. Other than distance, it was a good place for us though.
When the disciples first started following Jesus, they thought they were on a path to God’s overturning of the Roman Empire with sharing in the glories of victory. They discovered the path was one of personal and communal spiritual struggles with victories and temporary defeats.
When the later community experienced persecution, they began to wonder if they were going the right way. Peter’s letter reminded them that Jesus experienced painful resistance to his work, resistance that culminated in his arrest, torture and execution. When we experience resistance we need to examine the source and motivation of the resistance. When it comes from powers resisting loving change, be glad for that happened to Jesus also.
In that time the resistance came from Jewish religious leaders, Roman administrators and soldiers, political and business leaders, and people like the Gerasenes who did not like their routine disrupted .
Resistance to those eager to follow Jesus today comes from established leaders in churches, political and business elites, and church and community members resistant to change that makes them uncomfortable.
Support for those eager to follow Jesus in that time came from people living on the margins of society, from elites who felt that the way things were was wrong, and from people across the social spectrum seeking to fill the god-shaped spaces within themselves. And it is much the same today.
Until we have a world where no one needs to go hungry, where everyone has a place of value and honour, where hatred is almost non-existent, God will keep shaking up what is on the way to this kind of world. Traveling along with Jesus, and with God, is going to come with shaking up the status quo with the consequences and rewards. It is joyful and painful, uncertain and surprising, and needing patient persistence, but it is the best way to be traveling along.
There have been difficult, painful, exciting, and wonderful times in our travels as happens in the lives in most individuals and organizations. Sometimes we have a destination, and sometimes we do not know where life is taking us. Either way, it is important to stay alert, enjoy what we can, and trust in God to help us through the other stuff.
May your travels be richly rewarding as you travel along.