Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Looking Up or Looking Out

So I'm working on my sermon prep for next Sunday. I didn't intend to do Ascension, but John just isn't speaking to me today. Not. one. word. The Acts passage (1:6-11, not 14) is. I feel like it has been too many weeks since I've had good characters to work with. I've missed getting inside a good story and playing with the folks we meet there. Here's what I'm seeing so far - -

As if they haven't seen enough yet, the apostles (v. 2) are still looking for more. Jesus was born, preached, performed miracles, died, and was raised from the dead, but these guys are still looking for more. "When are you going to do what we want you to do? When are you going to make this place like it used to be?" As I begin the 5th month of my new call, I can hear these undertones in some of my congregation members' comments. I think things are going very well. They had a rough history in the last 7 years or so. There was some unhealthy bickering before that, some major conflict or and with pastors. They lost a lot of members and a lot of morale. The interim period was long, but necessary. They spent an admirable amount of time and energy (and money) getting healthy (healthiER? Are any of us ever fully healthy?).

So now here I am. There have been and are a lot of expectations about where we will go from here. Many of those are described in the language and memories of the good old days. Now that we're back on our feet we need to restart the Wednesday Kids' Club. Now that we're back on our feet we need to revive our Youth Group. Now that we're back on our feet we need to get our membership number high again. Or as the apostles put it, now is the time to "restore the kingdom to Israel".

But resurrection doesn't = restoration. It isn't just bringing back to life what has died. It isn't just conquering what has been tying us down so that we can do the same old thing over and over again. What we had before didn't necessarily work, right? The resurrection frees us to do God's will in a new way. It releases us from the former understandings of success. It releases us from responsibility from saving the world ourselves, but calls us to witness to the one who is the Savior. Restoring the church through our own efforts to bring things back to some picture of "ideal" as remembered from the past isn't the goal. Following the Holy Spirit into the unknown territory of the future is.

Now a bit of a preaching dilemma. I love the question, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?" Standing alone it says so much to me about being stuck in one place (the "stand" part) and being oblivious to the needs and Spirit's leading around us (based on "looking up"). In that question and the posture of the apostles I see a church that is looking for what has been instead of what will be. I just don't know if that's what it says with the sentence that comes next which refers to Jesus' going and eventual coming.

Is there a way to read the last statement that I'm missing that supports my reading/understanding of the "Men of Galilee" question?
Is it irresponsible and eisegetical to just end my reading of Scripture with the question and not include the statement
to comment on the question without addressing its meaning in conjunction with the statement (if I can't responsibly interpret them in my hoped direction together)?

I plan to end my reading of Scripture with v. 11, and not go on into 12-14

Hmmm...I think I'll spend more time in commentaries on this last part, but that's where I am for now!

1 comment:

revabi said...

I found John wasn't speaking to me either. Going with Acts only not sure which way at this point. Somewhat looking at how they still wanted Jesus to do the political but he wasn't. They had to be confronted about not being able to let go, quit looking up...the power of them all together including the women in the upper room praying together.

I think you are okay with where you are going. A friend of mine has titled her sermon, The problem with Looking up.