Text: Acts 1:1-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our reading from Acts today reminds me a bit of a scene from the movie Mary Poppins. I loved that movie when I was a kid and have enjoyed watching it a few times with my own children. The scene I have in mind occurs right after Mary Poppins has been hired to be the nanny for the Banks children. She proceeds to go upstairs to where the children are, but Mary does not simply go up the stairs. No, Mary rides the banister up to the second floor defying the rules of physics and the rules of etiquette. The two children, Jane and Michael, are waiting at the top of the stairs when Mary arrives and they are both stunned. Michael, the younger brother, is standing there with his mouth agape in awe at what he had just seen. Mary Poppins quickly and calmly quips, “Close your mouth, Michael, we are not a codfish,” and proceeds to lead the children to their playroom.
Jesus’ disciples are left in a similar situation, I think, as they watch Him ascend into heaven. As unnatural as it seems for someone to ride up on a bannister, it is even more unexpected to watch someone disappear on clouds of glory into heaven. The disciple are left with that codfish kind of look on their faces, jaws dropped, staring up into the sky as they watch their Lord, their teacher, their friend disappear from sight into heaven.
Like Mary Poppins, someone comes along to snap the disciples out of their awe and to redirect their attention to the matter at hand. Two men appear dressed in glowing white robes, the same kind of “men” who were there at the tomb to tell the women that Jesus was not there because He is risen from the dead, these men are angels. The angels say to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” It is as if they said, “You are not codfish, gentlemen, close your mouths, stop staring at the sky, and get back to reality.”
But what is so wrong with looking up into the sky as Jesus disappears from sight? It’s hard to blame the disciples for staring up into heaven the way that they did. If I were in their shoes I think I would do the same thing. Airplanes from the warplane heritage museum flew over on Victoria Day and I stood there staring into the sky watching them. They are just airplanes (really cool old planes, but just airplanes) and I stood there watching them. Surely if I saw Jesus ascending into heaven I’d be staring at that too and for good reason.
If there ever was a good reason to stare into heaven it is to see Jesus ascending. Ascension Day doesn’t get the attention that other Christian holidays get. We don’t treat it the same way that we treat Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Easter Sunday. But this is an important event. At Christmas we celebrate Jesus becoming a man like us. We call Him Emmanuel, God with us, and He really is with us. He is human like us in every way. That hasn’t changed now that Jesus has died and risen again. He is still fully human, a man just like us, and as Jesus ascends we see something amazing, a man, a human being with flesh and blood, skin and bones just like you and me ascending into heaven and sitting at the right hand of God. That might not seem like a big deal at first, but it is. Human beings like you and me have no right to ascend into heaven or be in the presence of God, let alone sit as His right hand. And yet that is what the Son of Man, Jesus, does. He ascends into heaven and lifts up your humanity, your flesh and bones, your body and soul, to be with Him in eternity. When we think about Jesus ascending, when we watch Him disappear from sight with the disciples who were there, what we see is our own human life going up to life everlasting. That is worth staring into heaven to see, but our eyes can’t stay there. The angels come to us too and point us back out to the world we live in.
Getting back to reality would be important for the disciples because before He had ascended Jesus had given them a great responsibility: “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus said, “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” You will be my witnesses. These disciples, these men who had seen the miracles that Jesus had performed, who had heard Him teach, who had travelled with Him for three years around Palestine, who had seen Him die on a cross, and who had now seen Him risen from the dead; these disciples who had seen all of these things would now be His witnesses.
But you can’t be a witness of Jesus is you just spend all your time staring up into heaven. That is why these angels come along to bring the disciples back to reality. If their eyes are left gazing up into the sky then they won’t be able to be witnesses of Jesus. In order for them to be witnesses of Jesus their eyes need to be looking at the world around them, the people around them. In order to be witnesses of Jesus to other people the disciples would have to see those other people, they would need to get to know them, they would have to know the cares and concerns of those people, they would need to know who they are and what their life is like. They would need to shift their focus and see the people all around them.
The disciples had this unique call directly from Jesus to be His witnesses. We haven’t been called in the exact same way or to the exact same thing, but as Christians we are all called to be witnesses of Jesus. This means, just like it did for the disciples, that our eyes need to be focused on the people around us. If we are gazing up into heaven or anywhere else we won’t see the people around us to whom we have been called to be witnesses of Jesus. If we don’t see our neighbour, if we aren’t taking the time to look at them and notice them, then how can we be witnesses of Jesus to them?
Last week when my dad was here he preached about our tendency to look back into the past and get nostalgic rather than seeing what is happening right before our very eyes. That is one of the ways that our focus gets taken away from our role as witnesses of Jesus in this world. There are other ways too.
We can get caught up looking into heaven like the disciples did if we get too hung up on trying to find the answers to big questions that we have no business worrying about. It’s like the disciples when they wanted to know if this was the time when Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.” We get caught up in trying to figure out things that are really none of our business.
We can also get caught up looking at ourselves. We get too focused sometimes worrying about our own needs and wants and making sure that we are happy that we don’t even notice people around us. Sinners are self-focused and self-absorbed. That is just how we are. Again, we are looking in the wrong place.
Instead, we have been called to see the people around us and be witnesses of Jesus to them. For each of us that might look different. For some of us it might mean boldly telling people about Jesus and sharing Bible verses with them. For most people, however, that might not be too comfortable. But we are also called to be witnesses of Jesus simply by loving one another. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” Jesus said, “if you love one another.” Loving one another, loving our brothers and sisters in Christ and loving our friends and neighbours in the world, is one of the greatest ways that you and I have the opportunity to be witnesses to Jesus. By loving one another we show the world the love that Jesus has first shown for us becoming a servant to us and giving His life for us. But, if our eyes are distracted (whether we are caught looking up, down, in on ourselves, or anywhere else) we will not see the people around us let alone love them.
In our lives as Christians our eyes are moving all over the place. We look up to see what Jesus is doing and we look out to see the world around us. We look to Jesus, see Him healing, teaching, dying on a cross, rising from the dead, and ascending into Heaven. We look and see what He has done for us. Then, directed by Jesus we look out to the world around us and people around us to see where we, the disciples of Jesus in this world, can serve our neighbour. We see Jesus and we bear witness to Jesus. May this be the pattern for our lives, looking at Jesus and looking out, so that we can see Him and witness to Him every day of our lives. In Jesus name. Amen.