Text: Acts 1:1-11
If I learned no other lesson from Jon Black in my second-year Shakespeare course in University was that every story Shakespeare told set up a new beginning, whether he chose to tell it or not. Whether it was tragedy, comedy, or a historical play, there was always a hint of the possibility of new stories, and what would lie beyond when the curtains close. As much as the adage that in Shakespeare’s tragedies, everyone dies, and in the comedies everyone gets married is true, the stories end with the hint of a new beginning.
The story that we hear is exactly that. For those who have come to the New Testament seminars that I’ve been offering, Luke and Acts were written by the same person. The end of Luke hints at what is to come, and the opening of Acts connects with it and fills it out. The story of the Ascension.
Following his resurrection at Easter, Jesus has been spending time with the disciples. He has been preparing them for the real work that lies ahead. Until now, the disciples had spent much of their time listening and learning. At some point, they would have to take that responsibility for themselves, because it was only a matter of time until Jesus would no longer be with them in a physical sense. Jesus was preparing them to finally take up their calling, and become the leaders that he was calling them to be.
From the beginning of the story in Acts, Luke tells us that the disciples were with Jesus on a hillside. He is lifted from their sight, hidden by a cloud, and presumably returns to heaven. After all that training, all that preparation, all the work that Jesus had done with his followers to prepare them for their mission, what do the disciples do?
Stand there staring off into space….
Yep. Just gazing off into the sky… waving goodbye with a befuddled stare, oblivious to the world around them. Now if there were a list of things that Jesus had wanted his disciples to do after he left, we can probably be pretty certain that standing there gazing off into heaven would not be very high on the list!
The trouble is, maybe the disciples see this as the end of the story. After all, here Jesus is riding off into the sunset, majestic music is playing, and we should see the credits beginning to roll at any moment. Things have been brought together and wound up. That’s all folks… Look up and wave goodbye to Jesus!
But the credits don’t roll. Instead, like a needle dragged across the soundtrack, it comes to a screeching halt; two messengers suddenly appear beside the disciples.
Hey! Why are you standing there and looking into heaven? Jesus has spent all this time preparing you for something greater, not to just stare off into space.
It would seem that the disciples have yet again missed the point. This time Jesus isn’t there to straighten them out. It takes a pair of angels to snap them out of their trance. They continue to say to them,
Jesus has ascended, so don’t waste your time looking for him. Don’t look up to heaven, look around you! Pentecost is coming, there is work you need to prepare for! This story is just getting started!
The words of the angels are a bit harsh, but it is something that we need to hear. There is a good reason why this book of the Bible is called “Acts.” From the beginning, Acts shifts in focus from the work of Jesus to the apostles and the beginning mission of the church. It shifts our point of view from heaven, and brings us down to earth. It reminds us that while the story of Jesus draws to a close, the story of Christ’s church is just beginning.
Maybe we need to listen to the words of the Angels again:
“Why do you stand looking into heaven?”
Their words are probably even a better said to us almost 2000 years later than even to the disciples. Sometimes we can get wrapped up so much in our own stuff, that we lose focus on what God calls us to be. Ever hear the phrase that wop
But as the angels reminded the disciples-who-would-become-apostles, it is in community, in working together that we become the embodiment of Christ’s love. We forget that so much of what we are about is in being together and working together to make the world a better place. It has been said that one reason why the church and other organizations are in decline is that we’ve lost a sense of community, of working together. It’s what happens when it becomes “all about me” rather than our collective strength together. I have often said, that there is no such thing as an “individual Christian” because at no point in our history were we ever alone. We even say that in our creed, that we are not alone. We are not alone. We live in God’s world. Notice it doesn’t say “I”, it says “We.” So not only does this creed say something that God doesn’t leave us alone, but we, as a community, are not alone. After all, if this is Christian Family Sunday, this isn’t just our individual families, but our church community as a Christian Family. We are not alone, and we are in this together.
In Acts, what seems to be the end of a story is a new beginning. While it has all the hallmarks of a story’s conclusion, these opening words reminds us that God’s story is just getting started. That’s no different two thousand years later.
The words of the angels to the disciples are also words to us. God is calling us to be disciples, to be an active part of Christ’s family, it is Christian Family Sunday after all. Yet it doesn’t have to be just today. After all, God continues to call us to do this in our lives and our community, our own church family. God’s story continues on in our life, no matter how insignificant we might feel. Like the angels remind us, God isn’t calling us to stare off into heaven, but to make a difference in the life and community that we have here and now.
Amidst all of the competing messages that we have today, the one that is most compelling is the reminder that the story of Christ continues… and every day is a new beginning to be part of the life and work that Jesus calls us to.