Get on With It
Text: Acts 1:6-14
I tell this story with our daughter’s permission, though without a doubt, she would tell it differently.
Our eldest child, Erin is a grown woman, an extrovert’s extrovert, the apple of my eye, and a very quick learner. Early in her young life, she learned that when either Jennell or I said “we’re having some folks over from church today,” it was “parent code” for, “Erin, we need you to cut the grass, clean the bathrooms, chop vegetables, watch after your younger brother, and greet folks at the door.”
On the day company arrived, our firstborn would be a tremendous help, but inevitably at the peak of party preparation Jennell or I would look around and one of us would ask, “Have you seen Erin?” If we wanted more help, we would need to climb the stairs, open her closed bedroom door where we would most often find her wearing headphones and playing music at a volume to drown out all our calls for ERIN.
Sometimes, I wonder if Erin didn’t learn this well-timed vanishing act from Jesus. In the story from Acts, Luke tells of a time when the disciples needed Jesus the most and yet he was gone, leaving them no step-by-step instruction manual on “How to be the Church.” They had agreed to follow Jesus, but they had never signed-on to lead others. And just when they need Jesus the most, he heads into the clouds, disappearing as elusively as our young daughter once did.
It may come as a surprise to some of you that today is a long-established Christian holiday. It is a holiday called Ascension Sunday. I am almost certain that no one listening to this sermon tore open Ascension Sunday presents this morning or plans to go out for a special Ascension Sunday brunch.
What makes this holiday even more obscure is that the true Ascension Day was this past Thursday. And, perhaps it is rude of me to mention this but I did not get one Ascension Day card from any of you. But to be fair, I did not send out an Ascension Day card to any of you either.
After all, it’s hard enough telling those not connected with the Christian faith that the Jesus we follow was born in a barn. It’s confusing enough telling others that the one we follow was wrongfully convicted and then crucified as a common criminal. It’s almost too much to tell others that on Easter morning the tomb was empty and God had raised Jesus from the dead.
You have to draw the line somewhere. For many Christians, the idea of Ascension Day, the notion of Jesus going up, up, and away is a good place to draw that line. For why observe a holiday that celebrates God disappearing from sight just when we need God the most? I have no problem skipping that kind of holiday and in reality, most people do just that.
“Hey Erin, we could use a little help down here!” is what Jennell and I would yell in our pre-party panic, but Erin had already gone upstairs and was doing all she could to drown out our cries. “Hey God, we could use a little help down here!” is a familiar cry from many of us and yet according to the church’s calendar God’s Child is going up, up and away today, seemingly far removed from our plaintive cries and from the desperate needs of a world on fire.
That is one way to read the Ascension story. I want to suggest another way to think about this odd, midweek holiday. A fresh reading of what is often read as a stale story starts by paying attention to what the angels ask the frightened and overwhelmed disciples. They ask, “Why are you looking up into the sky?” The angels know that the Christian faith is not about looking up into the heavens, totally bewildered, hoping that God will get down here and do something because we are powerless to do anything of any import ourselves.
In the Ascension story, Jesus does not ascend into the heavens to separate himself from the mess of humanity down here and to drown out all our cries for help with a choir of angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus. Jesus ascends to the right hand of God to rule this world in love, love for heaven and love for this good earth, love that will ultimately transform every remaining valley of hatred and every hating heart.
Ascension Sunday is not about looking up into the skies in desperation; it is about looking ahead of us, beside us, behind us and asking ourselves, “How can we follow Jesus into this beloved and yes, often messed up, world with a full measure of God’s love?” The angels shake the disciples out of their fearful fog with this divine message, “Stop staring into the sky and get on with it.”
Get on with seeing the church as an ambulance ready to move us wherever the love and mercy of God is needed the most, not a private shrine for those holding the right religious password. Get on with making our sanctuaries and basements and Upper rooms places of welcome for those who are consistently not welcome and are told to “go back home” or are told to go to much worse places.
The Ascension story is a reminder to us that since Jesus rules in heaven and on earth with transforming love, Christianity is not a hobby to be tried on occasion; it is a life to be lived, day after day, year after year. It is not an advocation but a vocation leading us out into the world in convenient and inconvenient times to “get on with it.”
Later in the service today, I will ask Tory and Ty questions about their own faith and you will be asked questions about your faith. And then I will take a precious child in my arms and baptize her into the faith of the church. Why? Why baptize this infant? Why make all these promises?
Pay attention to what the angels tell the disciples and you will immediately know why. For to baptize anyone into the Christian faith is to “get on with it.” Get on with worshiping God Sunday after Sunday in music, proclamation, and prayer, while also worshiping God by visiting those behind prison cells, those stranded in refugee camps, those stuck in homeless shelters. Get on with not just being fed at the Lord’s table but making sure that no child or teenager or adult goes to bed hungry tonight, hungry for food or hungry for someone else to care enough to recognize that they are hungry.
“Preacher, surely to “get on with it” does not mean that we share what we believe about you with others? After all, Preacher, isn’t that your job?” “Preacher, surely to “get on with it” does not mean that we seek out and provide for those people our parents explicitly told us to avoid? For after all, aren’t we supposed to honor our parents?” “And, Preacher, surely to “get on with it” does not mean that we get political and speak out on behalf of God’s children whose lives are endangered because of the color of their skin or who they love? Preacher, how can we be spiritual and political?!”
Ascension Sunday is the “get on with it” holiday in the Christian faith. It is a great day to work on our posture as we stop craning our necks staring into the heavens, hoping God will get down here and do something. It is a great occasion to look straight ahead at the Risen Jesus who says, “I’m here. I’m waiting for you. And, it is high time for you to get on with it.” It is high time for us to look at each other, recognizing that we can never ‘get on with it’ alone but only in the flawed but faithful company of those who trust in the love and justice of God.
Now, that is a holiday worth reviving on the Christian calendar. It is a holiday not to be pushed to the back burners, but to be celebrated with joy and gladness. If nothing else, it is a holiday that reminds us whose we are and urges us to leave this sanctuary to “get on with it.”
So, having forgotten to give you a present or to send you a card, at the very least, let me wish you a glad and joyous Happy Ascension Sunday!