MESSAGE: “Stay in the City until…”
Text: Luke 24:4-53
Liturgist Text: Ephesians 1:15-23
Purpose: the purpose of this message is to anticipate Christ’s power of miracle unleashed through our lives and church.
Do you recall the feelings you have when you are about to plunge into a significant adventure? Perhaps you are in the cast of a musical production. You’ve learned lines, blocking and choreography; you’ve negotiated wardrobe with a dress rehearsal; you’ve sold tickets, and family, friends and colleagues will all be there to watch you perform; you’ve received one last pep talk from the director, followed by a theatrical, superstitious blessing, “Break a leg!” It is the pause before a hit show or flop. How do you feel?
Or maybe you are one of an Olympic team of divers. You’ve trained hard. You’re representing your beloved country in the eyes of the world. Mentors, family, team mates and judges are watching. You walk the board above the regulation pool, assuming position. It is the pause before public folly or Olympic gold. How do you feel?
Imagine how it might feel to be a surgeon about to perform a life or death operation, or a soldier on the eve of battle, preparing to storm the beaches of Normandy, or an astronaut getting ready to be the first human to walk on the surface of Mars. Or maybe it is the morning of your wedding day. You’re excited, nervous, fearful, confident, eager, reluctant, determined all at once. The one thing which is certain is something is about to change…
This tangle of contradictory feelings is the posture Jesus’ disciples find themselves in on the day of Jesus’ ascension. It has already been a roller coaster of a ride. They’ve followed Jesus from his days as a relative unknown, then a minor celebrity, a miracle-worker, a holy teacher, a prophet, a messiah, in the eyes of temple leaders, a subversive, and devastatingly, a martyr. They’ve felt collapse of a dream, disintegration of fellowship, grief born of tragedy. Unbelievably, they’ve also witnessed proof of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, his post-Easter appearances, and now, his parting words of commissioning and ascension to heaven.
They’ve received a charge, a mission, to preach repentance and forgiveness of sin, in the name of Jesus, to every tribe, nation and generation. They’ve been instructed to ‘stay in the city until given heavenly power.’ It is the pause before probable arrest or miraculous vindication. How do you suppose they feel?
There is a reason I invite you into this ricochet of emotion, and you may be able to guess what it is. It is where we are as a church, as a denomination, as a community, as a world. We’ve felt the loss of fellowship, the isolation of pandemic, the grief of losing loved ones whose hands we could not hold as they left this world for another, the suspension of mission, the scrambling debate over human sexuality, the polarization of divergent political allegiance, the fear of unbridled weather, economic reversal, and the erosion of trust and truth. Even now, as we anticipate a community without social distance, without mask, we shudder for other nations, ravished by COVID. We may feel survivor’s guilt, confusion over what comes next, or fear of what may have changed forever. But we also feel hope, and some of that hope looks for signs of what God will do next.
God has a plan, even when we do not, and the Great Commission of Jesus persists, “You will receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost ends of the earth…I am sending you what my father has promised, but stay in the city until you have been furnished with power from on high.”
This, my friends, is a time to pivot, to emotionally and spiritually prepare for a new baptism of the Spirit of the Living God. For when we return to ‘in person’ worship, as we are preparing to do on Trinity Sunday, May 30th, and when we recover bipartisan, economic and ecological balance, and when we emerge from self-sorting over denominational differences, we will be a vital church of Christ in Auburn, Maine. We will be poised to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, divinely shaped with open doors, open hearts and open minds, called to heal the world with hope, deployed to embody Christ’s love through a commitment to serve God by fulfilling the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of our congregation and of our local and global communities.
In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.” Throughout the pandemic, we have maneuvered and experimented with hybrid forms of worship. We have offered spiritual formation opportunities online and adapted mission to meet human needs where we have found them. We have retired lingering debt sustained by replacement of the church roof. We have continued seed projects and are moving toward installation of audio-visual upgrades for gathered and online worship. In short, we are on the cusp of new ministry, mission and outreach, an adventure limited only by our capacity for imagination and willingness to follow God’s heart.
I look forward to this adventure with you and ask you to hold it, and all of us, in prayer, so that we may be responsive to the leading of God’s Spirit. When Jesus instructed his disciples to ‘stay in the city until…’ the ‘until’ did not last long. Before they understood the Holy Spirit fire ignited within, they were already preaching the message, sharing the story, healing the sick, restoring the lame, even raising the dead to life. Jesus wants to work miracles through us, too. He is ready, and I feel in my bones that he is forwarding the question to us, “Are you?”