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    May 28, 2017

    Don't Look Up

    Passage: Acts 1:3-11

    Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

    Series: God

    Category: Faith

    Sermon Delivered at Central Christian Church May 28, 2017 Rev. Michael E. Karunas Text: Acts 1:3-11 Don’t Look Up

    We are close to the end of the Easter season. Next week will be 7 weeks since Easter Sunday. During this Easter season, our sermon series has been “Easter Changes Everything.” Each week we’ve looked at how, after Jesus rose from the tomb, he appeared to different people and how meeting the risen Jesus Christ changed them. Today’s scripture begins with a good summary of what we’ve covered. (Read Acts 1:3-5)

    The Book of Acts tells us that after his suffering (his death and resurrection), Jesus presented himself to many people. That’s what we’ve seen in our sermon series – a different person each week. He not only presented himself alive, he proved he was alive. And we saw that – how he invited Thomas to touch his hands and feet; and how he ate breakfast on the shore of the sea. That’s what living people do. They have bodies you can touch and they do things like eat and drink. And the book of Acts tells us that he did these things for 40 days – which is roughly 7 weeks, not including Sundays (the day of rest). We’ve seen all of this in our 40 days since Easter.

    One of the questions that’s always asked about this part of Jesus’ life is why 40? Why not do this for longer than 40 days after his resurrection? He could have done so much more – appeared to so many more people. The answer I’d give is that 40 is symbolic number that serves as bookends for the whole gospel story. Jesus’ ministry begins and ends with the number 40. At the beginning of the gospel, Jesus was prepared for his ministry by spending 40 days in the wilderness. After those 40 days, he was ready to do God’s work. Now, here at the end of the story, Jesus prepares his disciples to continue his ministry. And after these 40 days with Jesus after Easter, they too are prepared and ready to do God’s work. So, the number 40 means: “You’re ready. You’ve had enough training. You’ve been sufficiently prepared.”

    At the end of these 40 days, the disciples ask Jesus a question. That’s how our scripture reading continues (Acts 1:6-11). Is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel? That’s what the disciples want to know. Because for the last 1000 years, since King David was king, people had been waiting for a leader like him to emerge. One who would be a strong, political force; who would give the people the freedom to self-govern themselves and not be occupied by any foreign powers; and who would bring them economic prosperity. That’s what people heard it was like when King David ruled.

    But Jesus doesn’t answer their question directly. Instead, he tells them to focus on the mission that he was giving them. He told them that “power” would be given to them and that this power would allow them to be his witnesses. What’s interesting is that the word used for “power” is the same word used to describe the miracles Jesus did. Dynamism: where our word “dynamo” or “dynamic” come from. In other words, Jesus is referring to a spiritual power that will be given to them. Which means that Jesus isn’t about establishing a political kingdom but a spiritual one; a world directed by the spirit and not political interests. It’s interesting to note – in our age of deep political division – that Jesus had many opportunities to address politics directly in his ministry. But instead of doing so, he focused on things like – “Regardless of who’s is in charge, taking care of the ‘least of these’ will be important.”

    Then he leaves them. He is literally taken up in a cloud, drifting up into the sky. And they are left looking up into the heavens until he’s gone from their sight. Two men in white robes come and ask them, “Why are you standing there looking up?” It’s a great question and I believe it has to do with doubt. Throughout our sermon series, we’ve seen how people had doubts about the resurrection. Thomas doubted that Jesus was alive. The 11 disciples doubted that the women, who were told Jesus was alive, were telling the truth. And here, their looking up is a gesture of doubt. “Please don’t leave us, Jesus! We’ve lost you once. We don’t want to lose you again. We’re not sure we can do it without you. We’re not ready for you to leave.”

    And this question these two men ask – “Why are you looking up?” – is really a rhetorical one. They don’t really care to hear the answer. They are messengers from God. We know this because they’re wearing the same white robes as the two angels did who announced Jesus’ resurrection at the tomb on Easter. And there are two of them. And two is a symbolic number. The law stated that if there were two witnesses testifying, you could trust their testimony as being true. So, whatever these messengers say, we know we can believe them. And their message to the disciples is: “Don’t look up! There’s no reason to look up!” Jesus is coming back. He’ll come down again to you just as he is going up away from you now. This is what they literally say. But what this means is “You’re okay” because of three (3) things:

    First, there’s no need to focus on things beyond your control; things which are ultimately in God’s control (like when Jesus is coming back). There’s no need to stare into space up there because he gave you a mission that is down here; right in front of you. He needs you to be his witnesses, in what you say and do. Right here, where you are. Wherever you go, be a witness for him.

    Secondly, you can do this mission! You’ve been fully prepared to do this work. You’re ready. Now, how you live as a witness for Christ may be different than the way others do it. There’s no one way to be Christ’s disciple. If you’re uncomfortable speaking about your faith, let others see Christ in your actions. If you want to talk about your faith, but don’t know what to say, just speak of what you know; be true to yourself. There’s no script or formula you have to follow. Say “I don’t if this will help you, but this is what I believe and it is helpful to me.” That is a very respectful, non-judgmental way to speak about what you believe.

    Thirdly, we may never have all of our questions answered – like when is Jesus coming back; or why did this thing happen; or why didn’t this other thing happen? No sermon series or worship service or conversation may ever provide the certainty we’re looking for. But… Jesus is still alive – even if we can’t see him – and he will be with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    That’s what these two messengers meant when they said, “Don’t look up!” And do you know that as soon as they said this, the disciples were changed? They stopped looking up. They got down to business. They showed no signs of confusion or doubt. Instead, they had clarity and confidence. And almost immediately, they began carrying the church forward.

    And as we go forward into this week, may we go with the message from these two angels in our hearts and minds as well. We have a mission – to be his witnesses. We can do it. And may we be strengthened knowing that whatever questions we may have, God is in control and Jesus is with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit. And may we also take these two questions with us into this coming week:

    Question for Reflection
    What opportunity to serve Christ is right in front of you that you may be overlooking or neglecting? What would your life look like if you embraced that this week?

    What is something in your life you have doubts about? What part of that can you trust God to take control of and work out in God’s time?