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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What Were You Expecting?

Easter 7, Yr. A
Acts 1:6-14
The Rev. Betsy Hooper-Rosebrook

"While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?'" (Acts 1:10) …Well, gosh, let's think:
     Because they've never seen anyone be lifted up into a cloud and out of sight before?
     Because the man they loved and who loved them was brutally killed, then showed up alive (something else they'd never seen before!), and now was slipping beyond their grasp again?
     Because up toward heaven was the last place they'd seen him and it seemed as good a place as any to be watching in the hope that he'd return once more?
     The Ascension is a tricky story. Taking it at absolute face value--perhaps you've seen some of the multitude of artworks that depict a cloud with just a pair of feet hanging down below--stretches the imagination but does provide a tidy explanation for what happened to Jesus, who was already in a resurrection body. On the other hand, dismissing the description as simply a classical literary technique for noting the exaltation of a hero fails to acknowledge the profound transformation into the Church that took place among the believers once Jesus was no longer bodily present.
     A number of years ago, in one of those discussions that suddenly seems far more challenging than when it innocently starts, I found myself trying to explain the Ascension to a class of kindergarten students. They, reasonably enough, wanted to know what happened to Jesus after he was alive again. And where we ended up, with the gift of 6 year old creativity and a bit of Star Trek, was that he had been transported from this earth and even though how it happened was a mystery, what mattered was that now we would look for God anywhere, not just in Jesus. That works for me!
     So back to those disciples staring up into the sky. This isn't the first time an angel has shown up in Luke's writings asking people what they're doing; when the women go to Jesus's tomb early in the morning, two men in dazzling clothes ask them why they're looking for the living among the dead. In both cases, those who loved Jesus are looking back to where they last saw him and are challenged by angels to move beyond what's past.
     A week ago, Bob Honeychurch and I were talking about preaching today, and he mentioned he'd discovered it's sometimes called Expectation Sunday. That was news to me--and it's only a 36 word entry in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church!--but I really like the idea. "Expectation Sunday" holds forth the promise Jesus made to the apostles that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit had come upon them. Once they got past looking up toward heaven, between what we in retrospect call Ascension and Pentecost, they waited in expectation and prayer for this Spirit who would empower them to bear witness to all the world of God's love in Jesus Christ.
It's hard to uproot our feet and heads and hearts, to move away from the past. We know the past, whether we liked it or not; the future and even the present can seem fearful. Oftentimes we're still trying to recollect and make sense of what's behind us, sorting through and adding to our memories. You can imagine the conversations among the apostles in the upper room: "Remember the time..." "And how he then..." and "Did you see...?" and "What if we had...?" I'd guess all that was even flashing through their minds as they stared upward. And often staying put simply takes less energy than moving on.
     THAT is why we wait in expectation for the Holy Spirit, each day, each year. Going forth as God's witnesses is more than we can do on our own, and God doesn't ask us to. I think that what God does ask of us is that we shift our gaze from up or down or those were the days or the way it used to be, and start looking around us with expectancy. Where is the Holy Spirit going to meet me today? Through whom will God send the Spirit's power? What will I do today, not on my own but with the help of the Spirit? How, in a time when it seems like I'm not able to do anything, is the Spirit's presence growing in me to empower me for the future?
     The cool thing about expectation is that it doesn't presume already having the answers. It doesn't assume that how life worked out in the past is how it will turn out in the future. Expectation allows hope and vision and creativity and excitement. Sure, it can carry with it some anxiety or fear or dread...usually if we're anticipating the past negatively repeating itself...but we can hold that side by side with the positive feelings, offering them all to God as part of ourselves, as the package that makes each one of us in a wonderful way uniquely suited to be a witness to God's love.
     I offer you a challenge for this week: wait with an attitude of intentional expectation. When you wake up in the morning, take time to ask God to open your heart and mind to receive the Spirit, and your eyes and ears to see and hear the Spirit in others. Invite the power of the Spirit to come into your life to strengthen and embolden you as a witness. Instead of standing still looking up, move forward looking around, even if only a step or two. In all of this, don't worry about results, about feeling like something's happening; simply wait with the expectation that in God's time the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon us, will continue to come upon us, and in ways big and small, we will change the world with our witness to God's mercy, justice, and love.

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