June 1, 2014
Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday
and for forty days walked on earth.
Well, somehow Jesus had to get back to God again…
The way Luke describes it – it is an ascension – literally.
The disciples are standing on the ground
and Jesus is lifted up into the clouds,
up, up and away!
They stare at him, amazed,
and those two men in white robes who keep showing up in the gospels,
appear once again.
And they say to the disciples,
“What are you looking at?”
Of course they’re looking to see where he’s going.
Where did Jesus go?
Today I’m not going to ask us to pull out Bibles (unless you’d like to),
but I will ask you to pull out your red hymnals.
We’ll turn to the Apostles’ Creed on page 105.
There it is…2nd paragraph,
about halfway down.
“0n the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven.”
My guess is that you probably haven’t thought much about that phrase before –
I know I haven’t.
It’s a little odd, but probably not surprising that Jesus had to get back to God somehow…
so he might as well have risen in such a way.
It’s not all that surprising to us of course,
because most of us have European roots.
And the European understanding of the location of God was up – up in the clouds, up in the sky.
But that is not where God lives for all people.
When European missionaries came to South Africa,
they discovered that the indigenous people believed differently.
For them,“God” whom they called “Nkulukulu”or “The Biggest One,”
lived in the ground.
So when the missionaries began talking about a God in the sky,
it sounded as odd to them as it would be for us to consider God living in a hole in the earth.
Have you ever wondered how it came to be
that we began to think of God’s dwelling place to be in the sky?
Why the sky? Why not earth?
Before Bible times it was believed that the earth was a flat disc
in the midst of water.
A great dome held back the water.
God lived beyond that dome –
up in the sky, holding the dome in place.
So the early biblical writers understood that if Jesus were going to return to God,
he would go up to meet God.
Well as it turns out the earth is a sphere – not a flat disc,
and there really is no ‘up’ to a sphere…
So where did Jesus go?
It makes one wonder doesn’t it,
what would happen if South African missionaries had been the ones to come to us
and we were taught that God was in the ground.
What if 40 days after the resurrection,
it was time for Jesus to go back to God, to where he came from,
and he returned to the earth?
Would we take better care of this earth?
However it happened that Jesus returned to God,
to the shock and disbelief of his disciples,
at that moment they knew things would never be the same again.
Never again would they hear him, touch him, see him.
Things would never be the same again.
Yesterday one of my uncles, my mother’s older brother Edwin died.
The family of course knows that he is with God,
and yet we are in a bit of our own shock and disbelief,
Because things will never be the same again.
Never again will we be able to hear him, touch him, see him,
in the same way.
So we’ve been sharing stories and photos of him
with each other over Facebook…
wanting to hold onto his memory.
It’s not unlike Christians in Jerusalem have done.
On the Mount of Olives sits a chapel called the Chapel of the Ascensoin.
Inside the chapel is “ascension rock,”
the spot where pilgrims have claimed for centuries
Jesus stood before ascending into heaven.
But that’s not all..
on the rock is a footprint
– a print of the right foot to be precise – said to be of Jesus –
the very last place Jesus stood on earth.
And so pilgrims flock to the chapel
to see the last spot Jesus stepped foot upon.
But what would those two men in white say to that?
My guess is that they’d say the same thing they said to the disciples.
What are you looking at?
He is not here.
He told you to go – “Go and be my witnesses,”
he said, “go to Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.
You go and you bring Jesus with you.
Where is Jesus now?
He’s with you!
Go and be his witnesses.
Now I don’t think there’s a shortage of witnesses to God in our world today.
I just think there’s a shortage of witnesses to the kind of God revealed in Jesus.
We have plenty of people who witness to an angry God –
I cringe at those billboards and Facebook posts and even signs in front of churches giving warningsabout what God thinks of certain people.
We have plenty of people who will witness to a hateful God-
the folks of Westboro Baptist church did a lot to witness to this kind of God.
We have plenty of people who will witness to a vengeful God –
when tornadoes or earthquakes strike, there is always someone who will get publicity by claiming it is a punishment from God.
But Jesus did not show us an angry, hateful, vengeful God.
We need witnesses like you who will witness to the God revealed in Jesus –
We need you to witness to a God who spoke out when he saw
the rich taking advantage of the poor.
We need you to witness to a God who raised up women,
who stepped in when a woman was about to be stoned,
who weeps at the fact that girls are raped in India,
kidnapped in Nigeria, or killed in Santa Barbara, because they are female.
We need you to witness to a God who preached peace, fed the hungry,
healed the sick, touched the leper, became friends with the outcast, and welcomed the stranger.
We need you to witness to a God who looked at a rich man,
and loved him.
We need you to witness to a God whose friend died
We need you to witness to a God who looked around him while nailed to a cross,
and said, “Forgive them.”
We need you to witness to a God who called fishermen and tax collectors,
who washed their feet knowing they would later desert him,
who never gave up on them even though they never seemed to understand his mission.
We need you to witness to a God who nevertheless trusted this handful of followers
be his witnesses once he was gone.
“Go and be my witnesses,” Jesus said.
Where did Jesus go?
It’s not important if it’s in the sky or in the ground.
Jesus went wherever you are going.
You take him with you.