When Jesus Began Working from Home
SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER MAY 24th, 2020 ACTS 1:6-14
There are, of course, two types of people in the world – those who laugh at jokes that start with ‘there are two types of people in the world’ and those who don’t. I’m going to pretend this morning that all of you are the first type, and if you’re not then you can go and pour another cup of coffee and come back in thirty seconds, knowing that you won’t have missed anything.
So, there are two types of people in the world. Those that finish what they start.
Actually, there are 6/3 types of people in the world. Those that get fractions, and those who do not.
There are three types of people in the world. Those who can count, and those who cannot.
There are II types of people in the world. Those who understand Roman numerals, and those who do not.
There are, in fact, two types of people in the world. Those who respond to a pandemic by thinking of themselves, and those who respond by thinking of others.
Those who respond by stockpiling enough toilet paper to last twelve months and those who self-ration so that everyone can have enough.
Those who respond by selling an N95 mask for $1 and those who sell one for $6.
Those who try to sell fake vaccine on the Internet for $4.95 a vial, and those who love their neighbors.
Those who become violent when they are instructed to wear a mask in a shop, and those who wear one with acceptance.
Those who hoard and those who give; those who pray and those who curse; those who hope and those who hate.
There are two types of Disciple in a pandemic. Those who stand, looking into heaven, and those who get on with the job.
In our first Bible lesson from Acts, it is the day of the Ascension. The day Jesus began working from home! The Risen Jesus is with the apostles on the Mount of Olives for one last moment together before the final incomprehensible, mystical, supernatural, literally ‘out of this world’ event in his unpredictable life on earth. He tells them, “’You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? Then they returned to Jerusalem where they constantly devoted themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus.”’
There are two types of Disciple. Those who stand, looking into heaven, and those who get on with the job. And the apostles were the first type. ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?’ Nothing to see here, get on with your lives citizens.
Which type are you? The type that stands and looks at the sky or the type that gets on with the job? The type that gazes upon God, that loves to pray, to meditate, to read scripture, to contemplate the heart and mind of God? Or the type that is all action and movement – who is touched by the urgency of Christ’s love and compelled to get out into the world to pursue the imperatives of peace, justice, and reconciling people to God.
There are, actually, two types of Christian. Activists and contemplatives. And the good news is that we are both vital. Both are called and equipped to play our part in God’s wonderful plan to bring all of creation back into relationship with himself. Some are given the personality that finds it easier be an activist, and others are made to be more reflective. But here’s the thing – whichever one you are – activist or contemplative – there’s always room to grow your shadow side. At times, the contemplative needs to get off the couch and do something practical to bring in God’s kingdom – talk to someone, join a group that works to make a difference to society in some way, give someone a sandwich, even write an email. And, it is also vital for the activists to get off the street, isolate in the quiet, and pray. Quarantine for activists is both a pain and an invitation.
To the contemplative, the angels ask the same question as the apostles – Why are you standing there looking up into heaven? There’s a mission to fulfil.
To the activist, the angels ask a different question – Why are you running around trying to change things? There’s praying to be done.
I’m restless. I feel it every day. I’m trying to analyze it, and I can’t quite find the words. I have this feeling that there are things I should be doing, that this time of exile is a gift, and I’m fearful that I will get to the end and have nothing to show for it, that the issues I had before Covid will still be there, that my worries, fears, negative patterns of living will still be my default modes. I fear I will be as unprepared for the reopening of St Paul’s as I was for its closure. That the new opportunities we will have for mission and ministry will fall by the wayside because I fail to plan for them now.
I can tell I’m in this place of restlessness by my dreams. I have this recurring one. Don’t laugh. I’m at college and I have failed to turn in an essay. The reason I haven’t turned it in is that I haven’t written it. The reason I haven’t written it is that I don’t even know what it was supposed to be about. The reason I don’t know what it is about is that I haven’t attended any classes. The other night the subject was history. But that’s all I knew. I didn’t know what period of history. All I knew was that I had to turn in the essay. I suppose I could guess. Write an essay about Victorian England and just hope the class isn’t the American Civil War. But, and here’s the glimmer of hope that there is a future for me, I also had this feeling in the dream that I wouldn’t have to answer for my laziness. That the professor had either forgotten I owed them an essay, or was being very kind and letting me off, or someone in the admin office had made a mistake and I wasn’t meant to turn in an essay after all. But for whatever reason I knew deep down in my dream that my sins didn’t matter. I have this dream a lot. In a variation of it I’m about to take an exam I have not studied for. And in another I’m due to preach to thousands of people, and I’m late and I don’t have my notes, and I run back to my study, and I’m digging through piles of papers but can’t find them. But the good thing is – there are thousands of people.
So my restlessness is the fear that I’m not going to be ready when we open. I have an urgent understanding that we will have opportunities to minister to people that will be new and it will be vital for us to take those invitations. We don’t know what we’ll be returning to, except that it won’t be 100% like it was when we closed in March. So, I feel this great urgency to plan and prepare and think and initiate and just get ready for – whatever. And yet, I’m frustrated, because it is so unknown. No one has written a book about what is going to happen, how society is going to change, and how the church can make the most of the new opportunities. I’ve attended four webinars on this topic and I am registered to go to three more in the next few weeks, but still, there’s no blueprint, only an urgent conviction that we must be ready. So, like the activist I am, I’m frustrated. I can’t write the history essay because I’ve no idea what it’s about.
So, here’s the lesson for me and for fellow activists. There will come a day to stop looking into the heavens, and to get out and do things for God, but it’s not yet. For now we must turn inwards and upwards. Why are you standing looking into heaven? Because it’s all we can do for now. But, there is another reason – brilliant and vital – why we must gaze into heaven a bit longer. Just like the apostles, we need to. Luke says, “Then they returned to Jerusalem where they constantly devoted themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus.”
They had to wait for the Holy Spirit. They had to wait. They needed God’s resources to perform the mission that lay in front of them.
Like the early apostles after the Ascension of Jesus, we’re transitioning into a new time. We’re entering a new phase of human experience. One day soon, we will be called to go out again, connect with people face-to face, meet around the Lord’s Table, enjoy our one-ness, and take up the challenge to work for God’s kingdom in our neighborhood. But for now we prepare. This time is a gift. We get ourselves ready; for the task that awaits us post-Covid is greater than a history essay and more glorious than passing a test. So get ready. There’s still time to become a new person, a better Christian, a more faithful pray-er, and more developed child of God. Let’s not resent this time or resist it.
There’s a time to be an activist, and it’s soon.
There’s a time to be a contemplative, and it’s now.
This is the time of staring into heaven, of preparation, learning, reflection, prayer, meditation, getting ready.
Because sometime soon – the next phase of God’s mission to reconcile the world to himself will begin. And we will be at the heart of it.
Gaze into heaven, experience God’s Spirit, get ready to change the world.
There are two types of Christian during exile – those who resent their isolation and those who use it to prepare for the next chapter in God’s love story with the world.